Former Twitter executive Yoel Roth warned of the dangers of an unmoderated internet while talking about the extended harassment he’s faced in an essay for The New York Times published on Monday.
Roth, the former head of Twitter’s trust and safety division, wrote about living in fear after being targeted by former President Donald Trump and billionaire Elon Musk for his work moderating content on the site, now owned by Musk and rebranded as X.
In his essay, Roth revealed that he had to “upend [his] family, go into hiding for months and repeatedly move” while he urged platforms to tackle violent content, harassment and misinformation head-on.
“This isn’t a story I relish revisiting,” Roth wrote. “But I’ve learned that what happened to me wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t just personal vindictiveness or ‘cancel culture.’ It was a strategy — one that affects not just targeted individuals like me, but all of us, as it is rapidly changing what we see online.”
What followed was “online harassment that lasted months, calling for me to be fired, jailed or killed,” according to Roth.
Years later, Roth would find himself at odds with Musk following his corporate takeover of Twitter. Though he stayed on through the Tesla CEO’s acquisition of the site, Roth resigned in late 2022 after the trust and safety division was gutted.
After Roth’s departure, Musk took aim at his former employee online, baselessly accusing Roth of supporting the sexualization of children.
“Mr. Musk went further by taking a paragraph of my Ph.D. dissertation out of context to baselessly claim that I condoned pedophilia — a conspiracy trope commonly used by far-right extremists and QAnon adherents to smear L.G.B.T.Q. people,” Roth wrote.
In response, Roth said he received “thousands of threatening tweets and emails,” forcing his family to relocate several times and live with armed guards at times.
The former tech executive called his experience “part of a calculated effort to make Twitter reluctant to moderate Mr. Trump in the future and to dissuade other companies from taking similar steps,” and he advised social media sites to protect users from hate speech and powerful users who weaponize their large platforms.
“Few people could be expected to take a job doing so if the cost is their life or liberty,” he wrote. “We all need to recognize this new reality, and to plan accordingly.”
Though Musk has described himself as a “free speech absolutist,” the tech mogul has consistently worked to silence his detractors, either through direct harassment, technology or legal threats.
Last month, The Washington Post revealed that X had added a five-second delay to links from Musk-critical outlets, such as The New York Times, and from rival social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Bluesky.
X filed a suit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate in August, claiming it spread “false” claims about a surge in hate speech on the platform.
Weeks after that, Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League over similar claims, saying the anti-hate organization’s accusations of antisemitism on X have driven away advertisers.
Read Yoel Roth’s full essay here.