Trust, Safety And Twitter

The New York Times recently published a guest essay by the former head of Trust and Safety for Twitter, who has now resigned.

 In some ways, Yoel Roth’s essay was “more of the same,” for readers who’ve been following the chaos at Twitter since Musk acquired it. But what struck me was Roth’s recitation of all manner of complicated issues that Musk had obviously never considered: as he says, “even Elon Musk’s brand of radical transformation has unavoidable limits.”

The influence of advertisers has perhaps been the most obvious limitation, since it has been highlighted in a number of news reports. You’d think it is one aspect Musk would have understood, since –according to Roth–ninety percent of Twitter’s revenue comes (came??) from advertising. When Musk’s acquisition was immediately followed by a wave of racist and antisemitic trolling, wary marketers took a pause. They’re still paused.

But  even if Mr. Musk is able to free Twitter from the influence of powerful advertisers, his path to unfettered speech is still not clear. Twitter remains bound by the laws and regulations of the countries in which it operates. Amid the spike in racial slurs on Twitter in the days after the acquisition, the European Union’s chief platform regulator posted on the site to remind Mr. Musk that in Europe, an unmoderated free-for-all won’t fly. In the United States, members of Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have raised concerns about the company’s recent actions. And outside the United States and the European Union, the situation becomes even more complex: Mr. Musk’s principle of keying Twitter’s policies on local laws could push the company to censor speech it was loath to restrict in the past, including political dissent.

You would think someone able to pay 44 billion dollars for a social media platform would have good lawyers–and would have consulted them about the legal landscape he was about to enter, but evidently not. (The first clue that he’d failed to do so was his immediate, wholesale firing of half of Twitter’s employees–a move that neglected legal niceties like required notice.)

Regulators have significant tools at their disposal to enforce their will on Twitter and on Mr. Musk. Penalties for noncompliance with Europe’s Digital Services Act could total as much as 6 percent of the company’s annual revenue. In the United States, the F.T.C. has shown an increasing willingness to exact significant fines for noncompliance with its orders (like a blockbuster $5 billion fine imposed on Facebook in 2019). In other key markets for Twitter, such as India, in-country staff members work with the looming threat of personal intimidation and arrest if their employers fail to comply with local directives. Even a Musk-led Twitter will struggle to shrug off these constraints.

As daunting as the legal landscape, however, is a constraint of which I’d been totally unaware–and something tells me it hasn’t been at the forefront of Musk’s mind, either: the app stores operated by Google and Apple. The author says that  “failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic, risking Twitter’s expulsion from their app stores and making it more difficult for billions of potential users to get Twitter’s services.”

Apple’s guidelines emphasize creating “a safe experience for users” and stress the importance of protecting children.

The guidelines quote Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” quip, saying the company will ban apps that are “over the line.”

In practice, the enforcement of these rules is fraught.

In my time at Twitter, representatives of the app stores regularly raised concerns about content available on our platform. On one occasion, a member of an app review team contacted Twitter, saying with consternation that he had searched for “#boobs” in the Twitter app and was presented with … exactly what you’d expect. Another time, on the eve of a major feature release, a reviewer sent screenshots of several days-old tweets containing an English-language racial slur, asking Twitter representatives whether they should be permitted to appear on the service.

Reviewers hint that app approval could be delayed or perhaps even withheld entirely if issues are not resolved to their satisfaction — although the standards for resolution are often implied. Even as they appear to be driven largely by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail company plans and trigger all-hands-on-deck crises for weeks or months at a time.

As the author points out, Musk has criticized the capriciousness of platform policies. (I believe this is an illustration of a pot calling a kettle black).

In appointing himself “chief twit,” Mr. Musk has made clear that at the end of the day, he’ll be the one calling the shots.

And  the “chief twit” is nothing if not arbitrary and capricious..

I hope I have enough popcorn…


  1. I predict another BIG problem for the Chief Twit. His car sales are going to TANK as his brand is colored by his fascist tendencies. (He announced he is all in on the Florida Governors Presidential bid already) Electric Car folks are a bit on the tree hugging granola eating side — NOT goose steppers. Now that there are plenty of other electric car options emerging, we can expect a HUGE drop in Mr Musks car sales. Detroit has already taken some not so subtle shots in their electric car ads. Popcorn indeed..

  2. Aging Girl: Apparently neither of them are as ‘smart’ as the media has made them out to be.

    The ‘there there’ is much smaller than we’ve been led to believe.

  3. Cleaning out my 80 year old sister’s room at assisted living, I have acquired several unopened bags of popcorn.
    I may have enough.

  4. At first I thought I would stay on Twitter in order to be aware of current events, but when I started to see how many racist and right-wing propaganda tweets pop up on my feed, I deactivated my account. I don’t miss it at all, and life is good. Better without it in fact.

  5. Indeed, Aging Girl. Musk is emerging as what he’s always probably been: a privileged despot in waiting. He, like 45, have proven that you don’t have to be smart to be rich, just lucky.

    The convenience of the iPhone is a miracle, but platforms like Twitter have been a ready-made abuse opportunity. Humans refuse to obey the laws if they interfere with their, er, misuses.

  6. As the article points out, there are already censors in place with “powerful advertisers and Regulators.”

    Freedom of expression doesn’t have content moderators. However, Twitter has had both advertisers and the government telling them what content can be posted and what content cannot be posted from the public and private sectors. LOL

    What Musk is trying to do is remove those restrictions by placing Twitter in a private company realm but we’ll see if he can do that AND make money.

    The Twitter founders sold out. Jack Dorsey claims he voted against the advertising model at Twitter. Once the oligarchy is in the door, they will dictate what is acceptable and what is not. That’s why Twitter had so many lawyers on staff and engineers writing code for the algorithms. They suppressed voices the advertisers didn’t want to be heard while elevating other, more friendly voices.

  7. I am
    Loving reading you Sheila! Met you at Women for Change. I am from Brazil and part of the Hoosier Women Forward class 5. Elon musk is a good example of rich stupid man with money…

  8. Here’s an interesting thing I have noticed, more Teslas are being recalled. Could it be that the great man has tired of his little car experience? Will he tire of his space kingdom next? How long before Twitter gets to be too big a pain for the chief twit?

  9. This topic keeps our eyes from scrutinizing FTX ,which is the bigger and more important story.

  10. Left Twitter when he let Trump back on the platform… hoping that millions others leave as well, like over 50 of the top advertisers who’ve stopped ad spending on twitter, and that the platform fails — will be awesome to watch Musk lose several tens of Billions! 🍿🍿🍿

    Also, to patmcc’s point, I have been leasing a Tesla that I’m surrendering in December… when I replace my car, it will absolutely NOT be with a Tesla. As great as Tesla was at triggering the markets reevaluation of EV viability, Musk picked a truly stupid time to reveal he is a fascist with racist/misogynist/authoritarian curiosities… all his brands will suffer as a result. Again, 🍿🍿🍿

  11. Business is a tough gig because each one has many stakeholders whose expectations have to be met if the goods and/or service produced are to offer value. There are customers, workers, supply chain partners, communities, and governments which supply all of the infrastructure supporting the specific means of production as well as protecting the rights of the stakeholders.

    Mr. Musk seems to be surprised at that complexity and thought that he could will most of it away because he’s very wealthy. Where did he get that idea from?

  12. “arrogance, n. A sense of superiority which manifests itself in an overbearing manner; presumption in claiming rank, dignity, or power.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1961
    Musk, Trump, Putin. The supremely arrogant always overreach themselves and, ultimately, bring about their self destruction. I find the thought comforting even as I grieve for those others destroyed along with them.

  13. Well Donald Trump made his mark when he roiled against political correctness! So, does political correctness compare to moral meticulousness?

    Do we really know what the plan is here? The upshot? If Musk is attempting to blow everything up like 45 did, is it a plan to plow the field so to speak make the ground fertile for their brand? If things are out of hand, if morality and honesty are deemed out of pocket, The Truusk brand of uncivil civility will fill the void. As of right now, Truusk turpitude is the dominant modus operandi concerning conduct.

    Folks watch, they comment, they claim it’s a popcorn moment, but as everyone can see, this glacier has picked up speed, it’s bearing down on law and order, on individuality, on security, and peace, and just like the Titanic, the band plays as the ship is flooding. Not good!

    So!? Where does your foundation of Faith lay?!?

    In government? The The legislative branch? Did you dishal branch? The executive branch? Have they ever really accomplished their purpose? Every member of government is a civil servant, and yet, they elevate themselves above civil society.

    Sure they hold the line for a while, but just like an engine that’s never had an oil change, it slowly loses its steam and eventually ceases up becomes incapacitated, a piece of useless junk! Something that looks good from the outside maybe? But basically dead inside.

    I always keep saying, history shows the outcome and for all those who are educated enough in history, explain to me how this time is different? Because humanity has not changed its goal, it’s goal to dominate his fellow man, to not work together, to rebel! Unity or a unified society isn’t even in the rearview mirror, that has been given up on a long time ago. The effort to make a fair and equal society in this country has been going on from the beginning. So let’s just put a date out there, 1776? That’s not the correct date but easy for everyone to recognize. If this country has been working on an equitable society, since 1776, what makes anyone think that it will miraculously appear today, when, we have so much more social deviance? Won’t happen!

    Deviance has infiltrated every aspect of human existence, just like dumping black dye into a tank of pristine water! It’s ruined!

    Social civility, judicial equity, moral proclivity, Civil Peace and security, human rights, civil rights, ethics, and even one’s conscience, have been corrupted in one form or another!

    Best intentions cannot be applauded unless it’s goals have been realized! And, throughout history, and I challenge anyone, anyone to point out something different, Even with the best of intentions, those goals have never been realized! As a matter of fact, it’s been just the opposite! Popcorn? Popcorn! The magnitude of what’s happening right now, it’s much larger than people are even aware until it’s too late. Just like the Titanic, everyone claimed the ship wouldn’t sink, and, where is the Titanic today?

    Our ship has had many warnings by the watchmen over the past few centuries! And, those warnings have been largely ignored until reality slaps you in the face! By that time, there’s nothing that can be done.

    Failure was never supposed to be an option but it seems to have been the only selection!

  14. Yes, John, it’s another case study. Twitter is just another microcosm of a much bigger problem. Many commenters here believe the problem only consists of Trump and Musk and cannot see the same control/oppression on the Left, maybe because it’s less horrific.

    This country never was a “democratic republic.” It was an oligarchy instead of a monarchy.

    On a global scale, we now have the BRICS vs Bretton Woods crowd, which is going to be fun to watch as well. Speaking of bringing popcorn and watching ‘competitions,’ the World Cup is on so I must go… 😉

  15. Judicial, not whatever that was that was in my comment! Lord have mercy.

    The World cup? Todd! Maybe they’ll be another stampede moment, I suppose that’s always entertaining, watching folks stomp the life out of other folks because they’re plain stupid!

  16. The assumption that all of the financial risk was EM’s misses the significant billions that were loaned to him by big financial institutions and individuals. If his new toy goes south, who is going to be willing to front him more billions to play with? Do they risk losing all of the loans if they don’t keep lending him enough to make the business profitable again? I seem to remember tfg using that threat of default on the big banks back in the day when his big million dollar businesses were going under, taking the loan money with them. The banks caved as I recall. This was back in the ’70s, maybe?

    The manifest greed and malfeasance involved is eye-popping if the loans don’t pay off.
    I have heard from others that are turning away from Tesla for the same reasons discussed by others on this blog commentary. Big advertisers always manage to talk the talk but seldom continue to walk the walk when the black turns red. Cynical? Yeah, probably.

  17. I had decided not to enroll in Twitter as I have much more important tasks to do such as oversight of the building of our new house. Before that I was preparing to sell my house and move to the Philippines, you know that democracy that just had a PEACEFUL transition from one administration to another. That said I’ve communicated with friends on FB that my prediction is that Musk, just like DJT, will attempt to purchase the US Presidency. I hope he simply goes bankrupt and becomes just another fascist want a be.

  18. Off Twitter now and will never buy a Telonsla.

    Reportedly a large part of the $44B came from China and Saudi Arabia. Does the Muskrat know how they take care of those who disappoint them?

  19. I don’t think Musk is nearly as bad as the non-voters whose apathy gave us TrumpWorld. (Recalls are most just over-the-air software updates.)
    I don’t buy cars based on personality, but enjoy your Bolt. But park it outside.

  20. Ormond, the notion that “non-voters” would not have vote for Trump or the Republican Party in general is not supported by any statistical study. Studies show non-voters would have voted pretty much the same as those who voted.

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