Apple and Google have massive power over Twitter, says former trust and safety chief

Yoel Roth, former head of trust and safety at Twitter, revealed that Apple and Google wield enormous power over the company. In a guest essay for the NYT, Roth suggests this will be the biggest obstacle to free speech on the platform.

Although the narrative has been that Musk allows unfettered hate speech on Twitter, Roth notes that is not the case. Musk currently censors more hate speech than the previous leadership, not less.

Mr. Musk has empowered my team to act more aggressively to remove hate speech on the platform – censoring more content, not less. Our actions worked: Before I left, I shared data on Twitter’s enforcement of hateful behavior showing that, by some metrics, Twitter was actually safer under Mr. Musk than it was before.

Musk likely ordered the heavy crackdown on hate speech because of the company’s reliance on advertisers for revenue, many of which have drawn expenses on perceived changes within the company.

However, even if Musk manages to appease these advertisers or reduce Twitter’s reliance on them, he will face a major obstacle to free speech, namely Apple and Google. Twitter warned investors in 2021 that “Our launch of new products…depends on and may be impacted by digital storefront operators” deciding and enforcing guidelines. “Such review processes can be difficult to predict and certain decisions can adversely affect our business.”

Roth says that’s an understatement and that failure to follow Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic for Twitter, giving companies “tremendous power to shape decisions made by Twitter.”

During my time at Twitter, app store representatives regularly raised concerns about the content available on our platform. On one occasion, a member of an app review team contacted Twitter, saying in dismay that he had searched the Twitter app for “#boobs” and was shown…exactly what you’re looking for. were waiting. Another time, on the eve of a major feature release, a reviewer sent screenshots of days-old tweets containing a racial slur in English, asking Twitter reps if they should be allowed to appear. on service.

Reviewers suggest that app approval could be delayed or possibly even held back entirely if issues aren’t resolved to their satisfaction – though standards for resolution are often inferred. Although they appear to be largely driven by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail business roadmaps and trigger all-out crises for weeks or months at a time.

Roth notes that Apple and Google enforce policies based on the values ​​of a small group of tech executives, giving the example that Steve Jobs didn’t believe pornography should be allowed in the App Store, so this is not is not the case. These criticisms have been leveled at Apple for years; however, we are only just beginning to see government moves to regulate corporate control over the app market.

Although Roth appears to support Musk’s plan to establish a ‘content moderation council’, he ultimately left the company because Musk made it clear that ultimately ‘he will be the one to make the decisions’. .

As for the future, Roth says Twitter will have to balance Musk’s goals with the practical reality of Apple and Google’s internet life.

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