President Trump recently tweeted about the dangers of mail-in ballots and voter fraud, particularly in California. Twitter attached an alert claiming the tweets were “potentially misleading” and directed users to allegedly corrective website. The president pushed back, but with a pandemic and insurrection going on, the conflict failed to get the attention it deserved.
Twitter did not reveal who, exactly, was charging the president with potentially misleading information. It soon emerged that the culprit was Twitter’s own “Head of Site Integrity” Yoel Roth, an avid tweeter his own self.
In 2017, for example, Roth referred to Trump staffers as “ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE” and the content cop wasn’t done. When Kellyanne Conway goes on television, Roth tweeted, “we’re speaking with Joseph Goebbels about the first 100 days.” As Eric Idle once quipped, “I hate people who vent their loquacity with extraneous bombastic circumlocution.” On the other hand, the man is a deep thinker.
As Roth reflected in another tweet, “How does a personality-free bag of farts like Mitch McConnell actually win elections?” On that theme Roth does not hesitate to weigh in. Back in 2016, for example, he tweeted, “I’ve never donated to a presidential campaign before, but I just gave $100 to Hillary for America. We can’t f–k around anymore.” As Olson Johnson said of Gabby Johnson’s speech in Blazing Saddles, “who can argue with that?” And as fellow tweeters might wonder, who is this powerful prose stylist?
An internet search brings up no books by Yoel Roth. Thoughtful essays and op-ed pieces by Roth are likewise hard to find, but Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity does have some material in print.
“Hi, I’m Yoel. I work at Twitter,” Roth explains on his site, in original italics. “I have a PhD in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania” and Roth is very proud of a grad-school article he wrote on content management policy. It’s available on Communication, Culture & Critique but “paywalled, unfortunately.” Fortunately, Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity provides some enlightenment free of charge.
“This article examines the policies and practices that manage user-submitted content on 3 gay-targeted social networking services. While managing user-generated content is a common practice across social networking services, the policies implemented on gay-targeted services tend to be distinctively restrictive in scope and highly specific in formulation. This analysis identifies the technical, legal, and social affordances that authorized the creation of these policies.”
Identifying the character of these policies, “requires an analysis rooted simultaneously in technology studies, media policy, and subcultural identity politics.” In other words, “If the internet was supposed to herald a new age of networked free speech and individual autonomy, how did we instead end up with a regime of prudish and draconian content management policies?”
As Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity warns, “we can’t f-k around anymore.” But like the Great Ahmed Khan in Network, his readers might wonder, “what in the f-k are you talking about?”
As ProPublica noted, China “built a Twitter Propaganda Machine” with more than 10,000 fake accounts that “coordinated influence campaign with ties to the Chinese government.” The fake Twitter accounts include “propaganda and disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, the Hong Kong protests and other topics of state interest.” Twitter users might check if Yoel Roth warned about “potentially misleading” information and linked users to sites about China’s Communist dictatorship, the Tiananmen Square uprising, the occupation of Tibet since 1959, and other facts of that kind.
With a PhD in communications, Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity is hardly the best authority on election law and voter fraud. On that theme, President Trump’s tweet was potentially enlightening, particularly about California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a protégé of his one-time aunt Nancy Pelosi, issued an executive order to send mail-in ballots to “all registered voters” in the state. When illegals get driver’s licenses, the DMV automatically registers them to vote, so at least one million illegals will get the mail-in ballots. Secretary of State Alex Padilla isn’t saying how many illegals actually voted in 2018, and refused to participate in a federal voter-fraud probe in 2016.
After Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity fact-checked the president, Mark Zuckerberg pushed back that private companies should not be the arbiter of truth of everything people say online, and that Facebook’s policy was different. Based on his testimony to Congress in 2018, readers might think otherwise.
As Zuckerberg explained, Facebook was cooperating with the investigation by former FBI boss Robert Mueller, adding, “I want to be careful here because our work with the special counsel is confidential.” Sen. Cory Gardner asked if the government had ever demanded that Facebook take down a page. “Yes, I believe so,” said Zuckerberg, with no indication of the page’s content and no identification of the government official who demanded the removal.
As fact-checks reveal, Facebook and Twitter are partisan players, not neutral platforms. If First Amendment advocates believe that Facebook and Twitter should not have special Section 230 protections against libel it would be hard to blame them.
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