Twitter is less secure because of Elon Musk’s management style, senior official says | CNN Business
Twitter owner Elon Musk’s dictatorial management style risks leading the company to unforced business mistakes, content moderation disasters and degradation of the platform’s core features that help keep vulnerable users safe , according to a former senior Twitter official who led the company’s content moderation before abruptly resigning. this month
The social media company’s botched launch of a payment verification feature “is an example of a disaster that went away” amid the chaos Musk brought to Twitter, and the prospect of more disasters made it impossible stay, said Yoel Roth, former head of the company. of the site’s integrity, during an on-stage interview with reporter Kara Swisher on Tuesday in her first public appearance since leaving Twitter on Nov. 10.
Roth and other colleagues tried to warn Musk of the “obvious” problems with his plan to offer a verified check mark to any user who paid $8 a month. But Musk pressed ahead anyway through sheer force of will, leading to a wave of new impostor accounts impersonating big brands, athletes and other verified users that soon forced Twitter to suspend the feature.
“It went off the rails exactly the way we planned,” Roth said.
Public reflections from a senior Twitter leader who had close contact with Musk in the early days of his ownership of the company, a period marked by internal tumult and a revolt by hurt advertisers, provide the latest evidence of a billionaire CEO who leads by instinct at the expense of virtually everyone else.
There was no explosive confrontation with Musk that led to Roth’s resignation, and the episode involving Twitter’s paid verification feature was just one of many factors that prompted Roth’s decision to leave, he said. But the experience exemplified the kind of damage Musk’s freewheeling approach can do, Roth added, likening his last few weeks at the company to standing in front of a leaking dam, desperately trying to plug the holes, but knowing that eventually something would happen to him.
In the hour-long interview, Roth warned Musk’s let do The focus on content moderation, and its lack of a transparent process for making and enforcing the platform’s policies, has made Twitter less secure, in part because there aren’t enough people left to understand that malicious actors are constantly trying to game the system in ways that automated algorithms don’t know how to capture.
“People are not sitting still,” he said. “They’re actively coming up with new ways to be awful on the Internet.”
He urged Twitter users to monitor the operation of key security features such as muting, blocking and protecting tweets as early warning signs that the platform might be breaking.
“If protected tweets stop working, run,” he said.
For two weeks after Musk closed on his Twitter purchase, Roth presented himself as a voice of stability and calm at the center of a company undergoing dramatic change. Roth knew that by staying with the company, Musk was using him to keep advertisers from leaving the platform. But Roth also suggested that he and others who didn’t quit Twitter might have been able to influence Musk and prevent him from making damaging unilateral decisions, which he had “multiple opportunities” to do.
Although he spent his first days in the new regime fighting a “surge in hateful behavior on Twitter” apparently aimed at testing Musk’s tolerance of racism and anti-Semitism on the platform, Roth sought to reassure the public that Twitter’s trust and security work continued unimpeded .
He shared data about the course of the platform enforcement effortsi minimized the impact of Twitter’s mass layoffs in its content moderation team, saying the job cuts were less severe in that department compared to the broader organization.
On November 9, Roth spoke alongside Musk during a public Twitter Spaces event aimed at persuading advertisers not to flee the platform. In the hour-long session, attended by more than 100,000 listeners, including representatives from Adidas, Chevron and other big brands, Roth was optimistic about Twitter’s plans to fight hate speech.
The next day, Roth abruptly resigned, joining a number of other top executives, including Twitter’s chief privacy officer and chief information security officer.
In a subsequent New York Times op-ed, Roth said his reason for leaving came down to Musk’s highly personal and improvisational approach to content moderation. Roth’s essay accused Musk of perpetuating a “lack of legitimacy through his impulsive changes and statements about Twitter’s rules.”
On Tuesday, Roth said the popular narrative portraying Musk as a villain is wrong and does not reflect his own experiences with him. But, he said, Musk surrounds himself with those who rarely challenge him.
Before Musk took over Twitter, Roth wrote several commitments to himself that would trigger the decision to quit. One limit, he said, that was never reached, was that Roth would refuse to lie for Musk. Another limit, which was eventually reached and prompted his decision to resign, was “if Twitter starts to be governed by dictatorial edict rather than policy.”
Roth’s role at Twitter came under intense scrutiny in 2020 after the company attached a fact-check message to fake tweets by then-US President Donald Trump.
Tweets that Roth sent in 2016 and 2017 that were critical of President Trump and his supporters were unearthed and used to argue that Roth and Twitter were biased against the president.
Among Roth’s tweets was one he wrote on Election Day 2016 that read: “Just saying let’s fly over those states that voted for a racist mandarin for a reason.”
Twitter defended Roth at the time, saying, “No one at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions.”
When Roth was still working at Twitter in October, Musk was asked about Roth’s old tweets.
“We’ve all made some questionable tweets, me more than most, but I want to be clear that I support Yoel. My sense is that he has great integrity and that we are all entitled to our political beliefs,” Musk he tweeted.
Roth also became the personal face of Twitter and a target of harassment after the company decided to remove a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden, a decision that then-CEO Jack Dorsey has since said since then it was a mistake.
“It has been widely reported that I personally directed the deletion of the Hunter Biden story. That is not true. It is absolutely, unequivocally, false,” Roth told Swisher on Tuesday.
Roth felt it was inappropriate to remove the content from Twitter, he said, but at the time the story appeared to have the hallmarks of a hacking and leaking information operation.
Roth also said Tuesday that, in retrospect, deleting the Hunter Biden story was a mistake. But he defended Twitter’s other decisions to ban Trump for his activities surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, as well as a personal account for Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and an account for the satirical website Babylon Bee.
All three cases involved clear violations of Twitter’s publicly accessible written policies, Roth said, making them a much clearer case for enforcement.
Amid layoffs that have decimated Twitter’s content moderation team, Musk has said he intends to rely much more heavily on fact-checking tweets to give context to misleading claims. But Roth said that by doing so, Twitter risks abdicating its responsibility to the public, which should still apply despite being a private company.
Policymakers should require platforms to share data with academics and researchers, he said, preventing privately owned platforms like Twitter from shirking the duty of transparency.
When asked to give Musk a single piece of advice, Roth paused for a brief moment.
“Humility goes a long way,” he said.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
— CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report