Yoel Roth, the rabidly anti-Trump former Twitter employee who briefly served as the site’s top censor, has penned an article for the New York Times explaining how a coalition of regulators and corporate interests can prevent Elon Musk from fully restoring free speech on the platform.
In the article, Roth, who briefly led Twitter’s notorious “Trust Safety” department — responsible for the platform’s sitewide censorship policies — outlined the establishment’s playbook for restraining any platform that attempts to move towards free speech on its own.
Roth outlined a path for restraining censorship that will be familiar to other social networks, like Parler and Gab, that attempted to provide users with an environment of free speech — in particular, blacklisting by Google and Apple’s app marketplaces.
Via the New York Times:
Failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic, risking Twitter’s expulsion from their app stores and making it more difficult for billions of potential users to get Twitter’s services. This gives Apple and Google enormous power to shape the decisions Twitter makes.
Roth also noted the power of state regulators. In addition to referencing European regulators, who can explicitly demand platforms take down “hate speech” and other material they deem illegal, he also points to U.S. agencies like the FTC. Despite the First Amendment prohibiting government regulation of speech in America, the Biden administration has repeatedly leaned on social media companies to take down content.
Regulators have significant tools at their disposal to enforce their will on Twitter and on Mr. Musk. Penalties for noncompliance with Europe’s Digital Services Act could total as much as 6 percent of the company’s annual revenue. In the United States, the F.T.C. has shown an increasing willingness to exact significant fines for noncompliance with its orders (like a blockbuster $5 billion fine imposed on Facebook in 2019). In other key markets for Twitter, such as India, in-country staff members work with the looming threat of personal intimidation and arrest if their employers fail to comply with local directives. Even a Musk-led Twitter will struggle to shrug off these constraints.
Roth’s article is a neat overview of the machinery of censorship that the establishment has constructed over the past half-decade to ensure that free speech no longer flourishes online. If advertisers fail to constrain Musk, Roth argues that regulators and app stores will fill in the gaps.