walking the talk

Elon Musk’s Twitter won’t take any more advice from its Trust and Safety Council

A Twitter page dedicated to the advisory body has been deleted

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The writing on the glass wall is getting clearer.
The writing on the glass wall is getting clearer.
Photo: David Odisho / Stringer (Getty Images)

Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council no longer exists.

The advisory council of 100 independent civil, human rights, and other organizations was due to meet with Twitter representatives yesterday (Dec. 12). But before the meeting, an email informed the group that Twitter was disbanding the committee, the AP reported citing multiple members who shared images of the email and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A Twitter page for the group has now been deleted. The email said the company was “reevaluating how best to bring external insights” and the council is “not the best structure to do this,” according to a screenshot of the message, shared on Twitter by CNN correspondent Donnie O’ Sullivan. The email was signed simply by “Twitter” instead of a person, similarly to the message informing staff of mass layoffs following Elon Musk’s takeover.

The whole internal makeup of the company is undergoing a transformation, for better or for worse. Around 3,700, or roughly half of Twitter’s workforce has been laid off since October, and 1,000 people have resigned. Among the latter cohort is Yoel Roth, the former head of Twitter’s trust and safety team. Not to be confused with the advisory council, this team was actually responsible for drafting Twitter’s rules and figuring out how to apply them consistently to hundreds of millions of tweets per day.

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The disbanding, in the words of a Twitter Trust and Safety Council member

“Over [the] past week several members of council have had their personal safety and well-being impacted by the actions of Twitter staff. Many of us have been in this space for a number of years, each with different expertise, but all with a passion to see healthy and diverse conversations and safety exist on platforms. The way this has unfolded and [the] way members have been treated is unfortunate and unacceptable.” —Council member and youth charity executive Alex Holmes

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The erosion of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council

Formed in February 2016, the group of volunteers addressed issues such as online safety and harassment, human and digital rights, suicide prevention, mental health issues, child sexual exploitation.

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Some members of the advisory body publicly criticized Musk’s decisions since taking over the company. Anne Collier, Eirliani Abdul Rahman, and Lesley Podesta resigned from the council on Dec. 8, citing the rise in anti-semitic and racist speech as well as the reinstatement of previously banned accounts as red flags: “Contrary to claims by Elon Musk, the safety and wellbeing of Twitter’s users are on the decline,” they warned. They also opposed Twitter’s decision to lean more heavily on automated content moderation in a Nov. 30 blog post, expressing concern about losing the human touch.

“A Twitter ruled by diktat is not a place for us. Content moderation is a nuanced business that requires full transparency, adherence to policies informed by best practices and advice from trusted partners on the ground as well as dedicated resources,” the three women wrote in their parting note.

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The former council members have been subject to abuse and intimidation since they quit, thanks to a tweet from Musk himself. “It is a crime that they refused to take action on child exploitation for years!” Musk tweeted in response to allegations that the council failed to stop child sexual exploitation on the platform. Jack Dorsey, founder and former CEO of Twitter, even responded “this is false” to Musk’s tweet.

Person of interest: Yoel Roth

When Musk first took over, Roth initially stood by the new CEO, saying that just 15% of his team had been eliminated and attempting to clarify that Twitter’s hate speech policies remaining unchanged. But in mid-November, he quit. In a New York Times op-ed, Roth raised concerns around Musk’s idea of how Twitter should work, including his new content moderation.

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“A Twitter whose policies are defined by edict has little need for a trust and safety function dedicated to its principled development,” he wrote.

Neither Roth nor his successor, Ella Irwin, have publicly commented on the (yet another abrupt) decision to disband the council. Yesterday (Dec. 12), Irwin declined to tell the Wall Street Journal how many people remained on Twitter’s trust and safety team, but claimed it was properly staffed.

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