Twitter’s Policy Architect May Be the One To Watch

If a recent New York Post report is accurate, it’s not the liberals who should fear what Twitter will become; it’s the conservatives.

AP/Matt Rourke, file
The Twitter logo. AP/Matt Rourke, file

The world is well aware of billionaire Elon Musk’s recent purchase of Twitter. The transfer of power has left liberals in a tizzy regarding how Mr. Musk will define “misinformation” and how he’ll define “free speech.”

Mr. Musk, by most accounts, appears to be a libertarian, yet liberals fear he’ll make the social media platform nothing more than the public relations arm of the GOP. Perhaps a different employee at Twitter may have a say in what the platform becomes.

Yoel Roth is Twitter’s head of safety and integrity. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Roth has been with the San Francisco-based company for more than seven years but in this position for only seven months.

His job description reads, “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.” In short, he’s second in command after Mr. Musk regarding policy.

If a recent New York Post report is accurate, it’s not the liberals who should fear what Twitter will become; it’s the conservatives.

The newspaper reported past tweets from Mr. Roth calling President Trump’s advisors “actual Nazis in the White House,” calling the president a “racist tangerine,” and comparing his attorney, Kellyanne Conway, to the Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels. Two of those tweets were included in a front-page article in the tabloid in 2020.

In a tweet Mr. Musk defended his policy enforcer, writing, “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 high integrity, and we are all entitled to our political beliefs.”

Cranky liberals aren’t the only thing Mr. Musk has to worry about. As we recently reported, a number of companies have reportedly paused advertising on the platform while the dust kicked up during the purchase settles.

Also according to Mr. Roth’s LinkedIn profile, he received a BA in political science and film and media studies from Swarthmore College and a Ph.D. in communication (sic) from the University of Pennsylvania. He lists “full professional proficiency” in Hebrew. His Twitter profile, @yoyoel, has a link to his dog’s Twitter profile.  

In 2017, Mr. Roth returned to Swarthmore to deliver a lecture titled, “Swiping Left: Identity, Preference, and the Politics of Online Dating.” 

In an introduction, moderator Patty White spoke of Mr. Roth’s graduate dissertation, “Gay Data,” which “focused on the privacy and self-expression choices of gay men using geo-social networking services.” 

Most of what Mr. Roth spoke about was the history of dating apps and algorithms that personalize social media content, but near the end he addressed the election, noting the “public discussion about filter bubbles and fake news, and whether sites like Facebook and Twitter are somehow responsible for exposing us to the wrong information, or not enough information, in a way that hampers our ability to be informed participants in a democracy.”

“These questions,” he argued, “are completely reasonable, but in my opinion, they’re the wrong ones to ask. They treat Facebook and Twitter like they’re exercising some kind of human agency in choosing or not choosing to serve this content.”

“Instead,” Mr. Roth said, “we should focus on what the incentives are here, and why they’ve tended to result in certain outcomes.”

“A study of exposure to political messages from 2006,” he added, shows “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.”

“This,” Mr. Roth said, “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.”

He concluded “with one piece of advice,” one he said his “employer won’t like: We should take active steps to confuse the personalization algorithms that surround us.”

“Swipe right on somebody you’re not immediately sure you’ll be into,” Mr. Roth explained, “or that you think is the total opposite of your type. Follow somebody on Twitter that you completely disagree with.”

“This sounds trite or contrarian or like it’s going to be super annoying when you see, Kellyanne Conway for me, in my Twitter feed,” he conceded, “but I’m of the belief that however nice it is to only be exposed to the things that you already agree with, it’s not in our best interest to allow that to be the case.”

The New York Sun reached out to Mr. Roth for an interview but did not receive a reply.

The New York Sun

© 2023 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  Create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use