Late last month, Yoel Roth — the former head of trust and safety at Twitter — was a featured panelist at a conference hosted by the Knight Foundation titled “Informed: Conversations On Democracy In The Digital Age.” Roth spent the hour-long panel fielding editorialized questions from left-wing tech journalist Kara Swisher in which the two revealed how leftists view Big Tech as little more than a mechanism for further consolidating their grip on institutionalized power.
Roth’s answers provide insight into how he, and likely the majority of his peers in the managerial elite, feel about the intersection of institutional power and the rights of American citizens. Big Tech and Silicon Valley have a well-documented disdain for free speech, and people like Roth seemingly believe they have a moral obligation to perpetuate a censorship regime that overwhelmingly favors leftwing political figures and their preferred cultural trends.
During the discussion, Roth stated that he advised his old team from Twitter, who he believes are “highly values-driven and have chosen to do the work of internet sanitation,” to think about Musk’s acquisition of the company as “being a frog in a pot of boiling water” and to write down their personal “limits” that they should use to determine when and if they ought to cease working for Twitter.
When asked what his “red line” was for leaving the company, the former trust and safety lead, who is believed to have been a key figure in suppressing the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop and who likened Trump officials to Nazis, said, “I will not lie for [Elon Musk].”
However, Roth indicated that Elon Musk’s “procedural legitimacy” — what he described as the structured, disciplined process for making substantive decisions — was neither democratic nor transparent enough for him to be comfortable remaining at Twitter. Swisher, the panel’s moderator, implied Musk’s corporate leadership style invoked dictatorial tendencies by saying he “tended towards the authoritarian” as opposed to a “consensus-driven” approach and was encouraged by “enablers” who “say yes all day long and lick him up and down continually.”
Roth was adamant that he wouldn’t “lie” for Musk; that crossed a line and violated his moral code. However, one could be excused for not taking Roth’s self-righteous preenings at face value, considering that during his tenure as the head of trust and safety, Twitter was frequently used to disseminate child pornography, send constant violent threats to traditional religious communities, and facilitate transactions by human traffickers, all while allowing the perpetuation of political disinformation that overwhelmingly favored leftists causes.
During the panel, Roth insisted that he was not involved in suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story. But documents that have recently become public, known as the “Twitter Files,” indicate that since 2018 he had “weekly meetings” with “federal law enforcement agencies” who were priming him to be on the lookout for sensitive information implicating people close to 2020 presidential campaigns. It was in these meetings that Roth, in his own words, “learned … that there were rumors that a hack-and-leak operation would involve Hunter Biden.”
For years, before the New York Post published anything about it, Roth was being prepared to throttle the reach of content like the Hunter Biden laptop story. Interestingly enough, the alleged leaks of Trump’s tax records, published in The New York Times, did not receive similar treatment.
When asked by Swisher whether or not he felt Twitter was “safer” under Musk’s leadership, as he once seemed to indicate via tweet that it was becoming, Roth replied, “I don’t,” for which he credited a vast “trolling campaign.” He also suggested that an abundance of “malign creativity” — a term popularized by Nina Jankowicz, the woman previously tapped to serve as the executive director of the Biden administration’s Disinformation Governance Board, to describe instances of people “actively devising new ways to be horrible on the internet” — made it harder to “sanitize” and regulate the things people say in the digital public square.
Roth suggested that Twitter’s ban of Trump after Jan. 6 was due to “trauma” experienced by Big Tech “content moderators” stemming from large-scale political mobilization that was incongruent with their worldview.
The managerial elite, those who are prone to believing they have a mandate to “sanitize” the internet and cleanse it of heterodox speech, view themselves as soldiers in the war for social liberation, purporting to fight to prevent the traumatization of the internet’s most at-risk demographics. In actuality, they are petty tyrants who show up to work in athleisure wear instead of jackboots and work to hollow out their host country’s civil traditions.
Furthermore, if Twitter’s content moderators were actually concerned about their users causing trauma, why did they allow people to call for the harassment and murder of the teenage Covington Catholic High School students in 2019? Why did they not stop leftists from doxing small business owners and private citizens who didn’t sufficiently genuflect to leftist icons during the summer of BLM riots in 2020? Why didn’t they stop grown adults from exposing children to sexual content?
To these people, “trauma” is when a nominally right-wing opinion is expressed or when someone does something that doesn’t explicitly affirm a leftist premise. It is a conceptual one-way street with traffic laws enforced by the most powerful corporate monopolies ever to exist.
When asked about Twitter’s decision to ban The Babylon Bee over a joke about how the transgender assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rachel Levine, is actually a man, Roth stood by the company’s decision to do so. He said that the “targeting and the victimization of the trans community on Twitter is very real, very life-threatening, and extraordinarily serious.” He said, “Not only is it not funny, but it is dangerous, and it does contribute to an environment that makes people unsafe in the world.”
For speech such as the Bee’s joke, which Roth labels life-threatening content, he blamed the individuals who manage accounts like LibsofTikTok “who are particularly singling out a group that is already particularly vulnerable within society.” The existence of speech that does not affirm transgender identitarianism is viewed as a threat because it might cause psychological distress to someone identifying as such.
To these people, it doesn’t matter if you made a joke that they don’t get, oppose leftwing cultural upheaval in your hometown, or dislike the national status quo. Any opposition to their worldview presents a seemingly existential threat to their hegemonic grip on power, and they will not rest until dissent is obliterated.
Roth is not unique; he just happened to be employed at the right tech company at the right time. There are thousands (perhaps millions) of people like him who view gatekeeping the digital public square as their way to maintain their position as part of the coalition governing our society. Until petty tyrants like him are kept from regulating our speech, commerce, and governance, we will not — and cannot — be free.