Twitter’s Former Safety Head Forced From Home After Being Smeared by Elon Musk

Photo: Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

Shortly after taking over Twitter, self-proclaimed “chief twit” Elon Musk tried to reassure anxious advertisers that the social-media platform “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences.” A month and a half later, the billionaire is continuing to personally demonstrate how it is becoming exactly that.

On Saturday, Musk falsely implied in tweets that Twitter’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth — who is gay — has advocated for child sexualization. Roth and his family have since been forced from their home following a torrent of threats and harassment, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Musk had misrepresenting Roth’s academic writing over the weekend, making comments which echoed rhetoric popular among believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory. Per Bloomberg:

Musk participated in a Twitter Spaces Friday night about childhood exploitation, and responded to one of the participants on Saturday after she linked to an old tweet of Roth’s. 

“Looks like Yoel is arguing in favor of children being able to access adult Internet services in his PhD thesis,” tweeted Musk, with an excerpt from the 300-page dissertation. “Gay Data,” the title of Roth’s 2016 dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania, is about Grindr, the geosocial networking service popular with the LGBTQ+ community.

Far-right and extremist voices have long pushed a false claim that LGBTQ+ people are sexual predators who are “grooming” children to abuse them. In September, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Extremism said that “the result of this widespread hateful rhetoric has been a spike in harassment, threats and violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community.”

The subsequent online abuse from Musk supporters hasn’t just been directed toward Roth, according to the Post:

The online mob also sent threats to people Roth had replied to on Twitter, forcing some of Roth’s family and friends to delete their Twitter accounts, according to a person familiar with Roth’s situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to concerns about Roth’s safety. Musk’s followers also directed harassment at professors who reviewed the dissertation that Roth wrote in 2016, as well as at his graduate school, the University of Pennsylvania, the person said. The university did not respond to a request for comment.

Roth’s internal communications at Twitter have been prominently featured in Musk’s ongoing purported exposé of former management’s handling of right-wing content on the platform — though as Intelligencer’s Eric Levitz has argued, the “Twitter Files” project is instead demonstrating how “Twitter’s current management is using the platform to promote tendentious, partisan narratives and conservative misinformation.”

Musk’s targeting of Roth was not the first time the billionaire has trafficked in anti-LGBTQ tropes. Just days after taking control of Twitter, Musk tweeted then deleted a news story promoting a baseless conspiracy theory, which deployed a homophobic trope, regarding the brutal recent attack on Paul Pelosi.

On Sunday morning, Musk was at it again, parroting right-wing rhetoric in a tweet both mocking the use of personal pronouns as well as targeting the nation’s top infectious-disease doctor:

In recent weeks, Musk’s Twitter has been systematically restoring the suspended accounts of numerous far-right extremists, including notorious white supremacists, antisemites, and proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Roth and many others have criticized this supposedly free-speech-inspired “general amnesty” plan as dangerous. There has also been evidence of a spike in hate speech on the platform since Musk’s acquisition of the company and subsequent gutting of the company’s workforce.

On Monday night, Twitter also dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, a group of volunteers including civil rights leaders, advocates, and academics from around the world who had been advising the company on ways to reduce hate speech, child exploitation, and other problems on the social media platform.

This post has been updated.

Twitter’s Former Safety Head Flees Home After Musk Smears