Trump supporters are on the attack against Yoel Roth. Twitter is standing by him.
Republicans angry over Twitter's decision to fact-check the president seize on prior anti-GOP tweets from the company's head of site integrity.
Yoel Roth is not a top executive at Twitter. He is the company's "head of site integrity," making him one member of the company's broad team dedicated to enforcing Twitter's rules. He works under Del Harvey, Twitter's vice president of trust and safety. He's best-known for dealing with issues around bots and spam.
But over the past 24 hours, Roth has become the poster child of everything that Republicans say is wrong with Silicon Valley — tying Roth's past tweets criticizing the GOP and President Donald Trump to Twitter's decision this week to add a fact-check link to the president's tweets about mail-in ballots.
On "Fox & Friends" on Wednesday morning, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway read Roth's Twitter handle aloud and said: "Somebody in San Francisco go wake him up. Tell him he's about to get more followers."
Roth has received more than 3,000 new followers over the past day, according to an analysis of his Twitter account. He hasn't tweeted since Monday, but harassing messages are appearing every minute under his latest posts, and right-wing accounts with millions of followers, including the president's son and the Trump campaign's official account, have been tweeting out his name and personal information every hour since mid-Tuesday.
A Twitter spokesperson told Protocol the company is standing behind Roth and does not have any plans to fire or suspend him.
"No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions," a Twitter spokesperson said, "and it's unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions."
A person familiar with the matter said Roth has faced an explosion of death threats.
The storm began on Tuesday, when Twitter flagged a tweet from Trump as false, prompting conservatives and then Trump himself to lash out over allegations that Twitter was exhibiting bias against the president. It's a familiar battle, and one that came only days after The Wall Street Journal reported that the president was considering convening panels devoted to unearthing "anti-conservative" bias, a culture war known to fire up the GOP's base during election seasons.
"Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct," Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning. "Big action to follow!"
Twitter confirmed that Roth was one of many voices within the company that helped make the decision to fact-check Trump. But it was not his call alone, Twitter said — it was made by the broader "trust and safety" team.
It was the first time Twitter has appended its "misinformation" label to a tweet from Trump after years of pressure to do so, and it underscored the impossible question that companies like Twitter have found themselves facing in the Trump era: Should social media sites fact-check the president when he uses his enormous platform to spread falsehoods?
Roth, who has been at Twitter for more than four years and comes from an academic background, was almost immediately thrust into the center of that debate. Jon Levine, a reporter with the New York Post who is popular among conservatives, on Tuesday tweeted screenshots of Roth's tweets about Republicans from 2017.
In one tweet, Roth called Mitch McConnell "a personality-free bag of farts." In another, he wrote there were "actual Nazis in the White House."
The tweets took on a life of their own, bolstered by an article published on Fox News, promotions from the Trump-friendly One America News Network, and Conway's attack on "Fox & Friends." By Wednesday afternoon, Donald Trump Jr. had retweeted the post to his 5 million followers, writing, "This joker is in charge of 'Site Integrity?' Could you possibly find someone more biased?"
The Trump 2020 campaign's official account responded to a tweet from the president, likely in a bid to get more eyeballs on their message: "Yoel Roth is the Twitter employee in charge of 'developing and enforcing Twitter's rules' and he has a history of tweeting terrible and vile things that show he has a very bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS)!"
Twitter said Roth is continuing to work despite the barrage of death threats and harassment he is facing. The company declined to comment on whether it has assigned a security detail to his home.
But the episode highlights the toxicity around the political debate around how social media companies should treat speech from world leaders, especially Trump, and how quickly that fight can devolve into personal attacks from those who think there are political points to be won.
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