By Jack Phillips
Twitter owner Elon Musk on Wednesday wrote that the social media company’s previous management “interfered in elections” after the former head of its security team lobbed accusations against the Tesla CEO.
In a Twitter thread on a Reuters report in which Yoel Roth—Twitter’s former head of trust and safety—said Twitter is not safer now, a user wrote that “Twitter has shown itself to be not safe for the past 10 years and has lost users’ trust” and the “past team of ‘trust and safety’ is a disgrace, so it doesn’t have any right to judge what is being done now.”
Musk then replied, “Exactly. The obvious reality, as long-time users know, is that Twitter has failed in trust & safety for a very long time and has interfered in elections.”
“Twitter 2.0 will be far more effective, transparent and even-handed,” he claimed. He did not elaborate on how Twitter interfered in elections, although Republicans have long said that the social media outlet censored and banned conservatives, including former President Donald Trump.
The former management of Twitter drew criticism for blocking a New York Post report in October 2020 about then-candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings in China and Ukraine. With just weeks to go before the 2020 General Election between Biden and Trump, the paper’s Twitter account was locked for weeks after it published the report on the laptop—the contents of which have been authenticated by numerous media outlets since then.
Months before the 2020 election, Trump asserted on multiple occasions that Twitter was essentially engaging in election interference by adding labels to his posts. In one post in May of that year, Trump wrote that “Twitter is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election” and that “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!”
After the November 2020 contest, Twitter also repeatedly censored Trump’s posts about alleged irregularities in the election. Later, the company in January 2021 suspended the former president’s account until this month when Musk restored it.
In his interview, Roth conceded both he and Twitter erred when it made its decision on restricting people from sharing the story. Previously, former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted multiple times that the move was a mistake.
“We didn’t know what to believe, we didn’t know what was true, there was smoke—and ultimately for me, it didn’t reach a place where I was comfortable removing this content from Twitter,” said Roth, who left the company several weeks ago after Musk’s takeover. “But it set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 ‘hack and leak campaign’ alarm bells.”
As talks about Musk taking over Twitter swirled in April, the billionaire criticized suspending the NY Post’s account and how it handled the story.
“Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate,” Musk remarked a the time.
Musk’s comment comes as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated Wednesday that she misspoke about a government review of Musk’s purchase of Twitter Inc.
If there are alleged risks to national security, “it would be appropriate for [the Committee on Foreign Investments] to take a look,” Yellen said Wednesday during a New York Times-hosted event.
Yellen added that she had “misspoke” when she said she saw “no basis for a review” during an interview with CBS News earlier this month. “I’m not going to say specifically what we are looking at,” she added. “We don’t comment on what’s in progress.”
Biden, too, has said that Musk’s purchase of Twitter should be probed, prompting accusations that the White House may attempt to punish the tech billionaire.
Additionally, Thierry Breton, the European Union’s commissioner for the internal market, told Musk on Wednesday that he would have to make significant changes to Twitter under a new EU law governing social media content.
“There is still huge work ahead, as Twitter will have to implement transparent user policies, significantly reinforce content moderation and protect freedom of speech, tackle disinformation with resolve, and limit targeted advertising,” Breton said, according to a summary of the call.
Also Wednesday, some Silicon Valley leaders welcomed Musk’s management of Twitter, with Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings going so far as to call the billionaire “the bravest, most creative person on the planet.”
And Facebook and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was keen to see how Musk’s management of content moderation on Twitter would fare, arguing it was good for platforms to take different approaches.
“You can agree or disagree with what Elon is doing, or how he’s doing it, but I do think it’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out,” said Zuckerberg, speaking at the New York Times DealBook conference.
Reuters contributed to this report.