Yoel Roth, who stepped down from the post amid Elon Musk’s ascension to “Chief Twit” despite initially being embraced by the new leader, stressed that Big Tech was on edge over foreign election interference campaigns and emphasized the decision to suppress but not remove the laptop story was not his.
“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,” Roth explained during an interview with reporter Kara Swisher at a Knight Foundation conference.
Despite his misgivings over pulling the plug on the story, he said he understood why others had concerns about it.
“It set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 hack and leak campaign alarm bells,” he added.
“But — so it was a mistake?” Swisher pressed.
“In my opinion, yes,” Roth replied.
Twitter ultimately moved to block sharing of an October 2020 New York Post story outlining information from Hunter Biden’s laptop. It also temporarily froze the New York Post’s Twitter account before reversing course. Facebook briefly implemented similar measures to curb the spread of the story.
At the time, a cacophony of former and current intelligence officials cautioned that the laptop hard drive could have been misinformation from a foreign power such as Russia. In the time since, several media outlets, such as the Washington Examiner, have corroborated material on the hard drive.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also voiced regret for punting the story and revealed that the FBI approached Facebook before the 2020 election to warn that Russia may dump misinformation in the twilight days of the election to alter the outcome.
Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey has since admitted that the censorship was a “total mistake.” He also recently appeared to suggest the company’s approach to COVID-19 misinformation “wasn’t the right policy.”
Current CEO Musk has said Twitter’s handling of the laptop saga was “obviously incredibly inappropriate” and has stated that the company should publicly divulge more details about how that decision came to fruition. The episode has become a rallying cry for conservatives disgruntled with Big Tech.
Roth quit his perch at the social platform roughly two weeks into Musk’s stewardship of the company. While maintaining that Musk is not always the “villain” he is made out to be, Roth griped that the company’s tumultuous rollout of a paid verification scheme “went off the rails in exactly the ways that we anticipated,” per CNN. He also raised safety concerns.
“People are not sitting still,” Roth added of Musk’s lax approach to content moderation, according to CNN. “They are actively devising new ways to be horrible on the internet.”
Responding to Roth’s criticisms, Musk argued the company has “failed in trust & safety” and previously interfered in elections.
“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,” Musk tweeted.