Although the narrative has been that Musk is allowing unfettered hate speech on Twitter, Roth notes this is not the case. Musk is currently censoring more hate speech than previous management, not less.
Mr. Musk empowered my team to move more aggressively to remove hate speech across the platform - censoring more content, not less. Our actions worked: Before my departure, I shared data about Twitter's enforcement of hateful conduct showing that, by some measures, Twitter was actually safer under Mr. Musk than it had been before.
Musk likely ordered the strong crackdown on hate speech due to the company's dependence on advertisers for revenue, many of which pulled spending over perceived changes at the company.
However, even if Musk manages to appease these advertisers or reduce Twitter's reliance on them, he will run into a major free speech roadblock that is Apple and Google. Twitter warned investors back in 2021 that "Our release of new products ... is dependent upon and can be impacted by digital storefront operators" that decide the guidelines and enforce them. "Such review processes can be difficult to predict and certain decisions may harm our business."
Roth says this is an understatement and that failing to adhere to Apple and Google's guidelines would be catastrophic to Twitter, giving the companies "enormous power to shape the decisions Twitter makes."
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 search 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 inferred. Even as they appear to be driven largely by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail company road maps and trigger all-hands-on-deck crises for weeks or months at a time.
Roth notes that Apple and Google are enforcing policies based on the values of a small group of tech executives, giving the example that Steve Jobs didn't believe porn should be allowed in the App Store, so it's not. These criticisms have been levelled at Apple for years; however, we are just starting to see government action to regulate the company's control over the app market.
Though Roth appears to supports Musk's plan to establish a "content moderation council", he ultimately left the company because Musk made it clear that at the end of the day, "he'll be the one calling the shots".
Looking to the future, Roth says Twitter will have to balance Musk's goals against the practical reality of life on Apple and Google's Internet.
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