Yoel Roth is the former head of Trust & Safety at Twitter who is featured prominently in the “Twitter Files” released by Elon Musk.
Roth has caused controversy since the release of the internal documents by Musk, which highlight his involvement in decisions about Trump and which Twitter accounts and tweets the social media network suspended, deleted or made less visible. “Twitter is both a social media company and a crime scene,” Musk wrote on Twitter on December 10, 2022, after the release of the latest installment. Musk began releasing the documents after buying the social media site and installing himself as its new CEO.
In November 2022, Roth wrote on LinkedIn, “Last week, I left my role leading the extraordinary Trust & Safety team at Twitter. Here are a few ideas about the factors influencing its future under Elon Musk.” He shared an article he wrote for The New York Times.
In that article, he defended Twitter’s work.
“This month, I chose to leave my position leading trust and safety at Elon Musk’s Twitter,” he wrote.
My teams were responsible for drafting Twitter’s rules and figuring out how to apply them consistently to hundreds of millions of tweets per day. In my more than seven years at the company, we exposed government-backed troll farms meddling in elections, introduced tools for contextualizing dangerous misinformation and, yes, banned President Donald Trump from the service. The Cornell professor Tarleton Gillespie called teams like mine the ‘custodians of the internet.’ The work of online sanitation is unrelenting and contentious.
He criticized Musk, writing, “Since the deal closed on Oct. 27, many of the changes made by Mr. Musk and his team have been sudden and alarming for employees and users alike, including rapid-fire layoffs and an ill-fated foray into reinventing Twitter’s verification system.”
Here’s what you need to know about Yoel Roth:
1. Yoel Roth Worked at Twitter in a Variety of Capacities for 7 Years; He Recently Tweeted That People ‘Can Armchair Quarterback Specific Choices & Mistakes All Day’
Yoel Roth last tweeted himself on December 1, 2022, when he wrote:
If there’s one takeaway, it’s this: What matters most in platform governance is how decisions get made. You can armchair quarterback specific choices and mistakes all day. But the real work is figuring out how to make principled decisions when all you have are bad options.
On LinkedIn, Roth describes himself as “former Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter” and writes that he lives in the San Francisco, California, area.
The page says:
Yoel is the Global Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter. He leads Twitter’s policy and threat investigation teams responsible for a wide range of security, authenticity, and content issues, including platform manipulation, misinformation, election security, data privacy, and user identity. Before joining Twitter, Yoel received his PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focused on understanding how policy, governance, and code influence the types of communities that are able to safely and securely form online — and how the choices of developers, designers, and policymakers can systematically push certain types of identities and communities to the digital margins.
According to his LinkedIn page, he worked at Twitter for just over seven years. He was head of Trust & Safety for seven months, from May 2022 through November 2022. “Lead the global organization at Twitter responsible for all user, content, and security policies, comprising more than 120 policymakers, threat investigators, data analysts, and operations specialists,” he wrote.
He added that he, “Lead the global organization at Twitter responsible for all user, content, and security policies, comprising more than 120 policymakers, threat investigators, data analysts, and operations specialists.”
Before that, he was director of Trust and Safety and head of Site Integrity.
“Lead Twitter’s global Site Integrity team, responsible for policy development, implementation, and investigations for spam, data privacy and security, information operations, election security, and misinformation. Direct Twitter’s efforts to combat information operations and suspected state-backed activity,” his Twitter page reads.
2. Yoel Roth Featured Heavily in the ‘Twitter Files’ & Is Under Scrutiny for His Meetings With the FBI
Journalist Matt Taibbi was one of those selected by Musk to release the documents in a Twitter thread. “As the election approached, senior executives – perhaps under pressure from federal agencies, with whom they met more as time progressed – increasingly struggled with rules, and began to speak of ‘vios’ as pretexts to do what they’d likely have done anyway,” Taibbi wrote.
According to Taibbi, “Roth executed the historic act of ‘bouncing’ Trump, i.e. putting him in timeout.”
He shared several screenshots of Slack conversations between Yoel Roth and other Twitter employees. In the Twitter thread, Taibbi shared an internal discussion in which Roth discussed having “weekly sync with FBI/DHS/DNI” and a “report from the FBI concerning 2 tweets” in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election.
“After J6, internal Slacks show Twitter executives getting a kick out of intensified relationships with federal agencies. Here’s Trust and Safety head Yoel Roth, lamenting a lack of ‘generic enough’ calendar descriptions to concealing his ‘very interesting’ meeting partners,” Taibbi wrote.
He wrote, “There was at least some tension between Safety Operations – a larger department whose staffers used a more rules-based process for addressing issues like porn, scams, and threats – and a smaller, more powerful cadre of senior policy execs like Roth and (Vijaya) Gadde.”
Continued Taibbi, “The latter group were a high-speed Supreme Court of moderation, issuing content rulings on the fly, often in minutes and based on guesses, gut calls, even Google searches, even in cases involving the President.”
Wrote Taibbi, “During this time, executives were also clearly liaising with federal enforcement and intelligence agencies about moderation of election-related content. While we’re still at the start of reviewing the #TwitterFiles, we’re finding out more about these interactions every day.”
On December 9, 2022, journalist Bari Weiss tweeted out the second “Twitter Files installment. “A new #TwitterFiles investigation reveals that teams of Twitter employees build blacklists, prevent disfavored tweets from trending, and actively limit the visibility of entire accounts or even trending topics—all in secret, without informing users,” she wrote.
She wrote that Roth was part of a small group “most politically sensitive decisions got made. ‘Think high follower account, controversial,’ another Twitter employee told us. For these ‘there would be no ticket or anything.’” According to Weiss, this resulted in blacklisting of some conservative media personalities.
Taibbi has also tweeted about Twitter’s decision to restrict sharing of a New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
3. Roth, Who Is Married, Has Tweeted About His Marriage to His Husband, Yellowstone, Going to Brunch & Baking
On Twitter, Roth has shared some glimpses into his life, sharing photos of a vacation to Yellowstone, brunch and baking.
“The thing about Yellowstone is, it’s unspeakably beautiful, and also a supervolcano waiting to kill us all,” he tweeted.
Roth is married. He wrote, “This reminds me of the time both of my husband’s boots suffered cascading failures 2 days into a hiking trip in a remote part of Japan. Turns out Japanese super-glue is extremely effective.”
He also shared pictures of his wedding on Twitter.
Some of Roth’s tweets are now causing controversy on Twitter itself.
Some people are criticizing Roth on Twitter over this tweet:
In it, he linked to an article by Salon headlined, “Student-teacher sex: When is it ok?”
4. Roth Worked on a ‘Dangerous Speech Project’ & Researched the ‘Self-Expression Choices of Gay Men’ in College; Musk Tweeted Out Part of His Doctoral Dissertation
Elon Musk tweeted out part of Roth’s doctoral dissertation, writing, “Looks like Yoel is arguing in favor of children being able to access adult Internet services in his PhD thesis.”
Before working at Twitter, Roth was a “researcher” for the “Dangerous Speech Project” at Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. He held this position for 11 months.
“Developed and implemented protocols for collecting and evaluating large data sets studying online hate speech. Trained research assistants in quantitative and qualitative social media data management and analysis,” he wrote on LinkedIn of that position.
“Developed and implemented protocols for collecting and evaluating large data sets studying online hate speech. Trained research assistants in quantitative and qualitative social media data management and analysis.”
Before that he wrote that he worked for Apple. “Fixed Macs,” he wrote of the position, which he held for three years and four months.
Roth has had articles published in journals. One is called “Zero Feet Away: The Digital Geography of Gay Social Media.” The abstract says,
Addressing the communal potentials and ethical complications of geosocial connections made possible by such sexually based social media, the author asks whether digital forms of cartography via applications such as Grindr and Scruff simplify, complicate, or merely expose historically longstanding notions of queer interconnectivity.
Roth also gave a lecture on “Swiping Left: Identity, Preference, and the Politics of Online Dating” according to an article on Swarthmore’s website.
Patty White, of the Department of Film and Media Studies, introduced Roth. She said, according to Swarthmore’s transcript:
Yoel, as you saw from the poster, is a graduate of Swarthmore College. He graduated in 2011, and we were talking about things have changed since then. I’m sure he’d be happy to talk with you about that. When he was here, he was at one point an editor of The Phoenix. He graduated with highest honors in Political Science and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and Yoel was, for me, one of my first introductions to a really robust kind of media studies research profile. He was really interested in media studies in a way that he realized in his graduate work at the Annenberg School, which is a communications school, and it’s not really how we teach media studies here so I learned a lot. I remember we had an independent study and it was at least as much me learning from him. He was also an early adopter of all technologies, so everything I know about Twitter I learned from him in 140 characters.
Yoel went to Annenberg School, as I said, and his dissertation was called Gay Data and it focused on the privacy and self-expression choices of gay men using geo-social networking services. He’s published several articles from that research. ‘Zero Feet Away: The Digital Geography of Gay Social Media,’ ‘No Overly Suggestive Photos of Any Kind: Content Management Policies and the Policing of Self in Gay Digital Communities,” and forthcoming work that my students have a sneak preview of and we’ll talk about tomorrow with Yoel in class, ‘No Fats, No Femmes, No Privacy,’ forthcoming in Digital Media 2: Transformations in Human Communication. Yoel has also worked with researchers at Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society to develop protocols for studying dangerous speech and counter-speech online.
In the lecture, Roth said, in part,
Here’s an interesting point from a study of exposure to political messages from 2006. It turns out that when you expose people to conflicting viewpoints, they’re more likely to appreciate and tolerate their views. That’s awesome, tolerance, great, but the downside is they also become less engaged. They’re less likely to vote, or volunteer, or get in fights online, and so this is the dark side of the personalization algorithm problem. Facebook and Twitter and Tinder are all trying to keep you engaged as much as possible, and there’s tons of evidence that suggests that the best way to do that is to show you things that you’re already likely to enjoy.
Another one of Roth’s publications is called, ‘Locating the ‘Scruff Guy’: Theorizing Body and Space in Gay Geosocial Media.”
5. Roth Holds a Doctorate in Communication
According to his LinkedIn page, Roth holds a Ph.D in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania. “Research and teaching at the intersection of social media and platform governance, safety, identity, and privacy,” he wrote on LinkedIn about his work.
“My published work focused on the now-ubiquitous technologies of mobile app stores and online dating sites to study how the interplay of design and engineering choices and platform policies enable and constrain opportunities for self-expression, data protection, and physical safety. Research and teaching at the intersection of social media and platform governance, safety, identity, and privacy,” Roth added.
He added: “My published work focused on the now-ubiquitous technologies of mobile app stores and online dating sites to study how the interplay of design and engineering choices and platform policies enable and constrain opportunities for self-expression, data protection, and physical safety.”
According to his LinkedIn, Roth has a bachelor’s degree in film and media studies and political science from Swarthmore College. He is a technical advisor on the Commission on Information Disorder for the Aspen Institute and is an advisory board member at Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media. Roth has full professional proficiency in English and Hebrew, according to his LinkedIn page.