2016 Annenberg School for Communication graduate and former Twitter executive Yoel Roth spoke at an event on campus on April 4.
The event, titled “Trust, Safety, and Social Media,” covered Roth’s journey and actions during his time at Twitter in the context of global and national political events, as well as the dissertation he wrote as a Ph.D. student at Penn. Annenberg professor and Annenberg Public Policy Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson led the conversation with Roth, Twitter's former head of trust and safety. The event included a question and answer session, with questions from Penn students and faculty.
Co-sponsored by the Center for Media at Risk, Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the Annenberg School for Communication, the event was part of Penn’s Annenberg Series, which discusses different themes every academic year. This year, the event series' theme was “Public Service in a Time of Polarization.”
“It's exciting to see Penn, the Annenberg School, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center engage so closely with questions of platform governance and the impact of social media on public discourse,” Roth wrote in a written statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Roth, now a technology policy fellow at the University of California at Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, “led the teams responsible for Twitter’s content moderation, integrity, and platform security efforts” in his seven years at the company, according to an announcement about the event.
“To be able to understand what's going on in the world of social media, in the world of polarization, in a set of circumstances that create real threats and real risks to people simply trying to do their job, we need to hear firsthand from people who have gone through that,” Director of the Center for Media at Risk Barbie Zelizer said.
Jamieson, who co-founded FactCheck.org, asked Roth about a range of topics, such as Twitter’s crackdown on bot accounts linked to Russian troll farms, the social media platform’s role in moderating violent organization prior to the Jan. 6, 2021 breaching of the United States Capitol, and the subsequent permanent suspension of 1968 Wharton graduate and former President Donald Trump from the platform.
“I didn't really realize how far back some of these decisions were, like starting in 2014 [and] 2015,” Wharton senior Tvisha Malik, who attended the event, said. “It's really cool to hear that this is something that they’ve been thinking about for like a long period of time and that there were a lot of academics involved in this process.”
Another topic of discussion was Roth’s dissertation, written during his time at Penn. 1997 College and Wharton graduate and Twitter owner Elon Musk misrepresented the subject of Roth’s dissertation in a Dec. 12 tweet, causing Roth and his family to flee their home after being the subject of targeted harassment and threats.
Students expressed enthusiasm after hearing from Roth, citing the distance that is often perceived in the technology field.
“It was really refreshing just to see the humanity behind these big processes that happen in big tech, and see that it's not all bad,” College junior Katie Francis said.
Roth told the DP that he enjoyed the opportunity to return to his alma mater, which inspired much of his career.
“Penn has always felt like home, in an intellectual and personal sense,” Roth wrote. “Annenberg is where I developed and honed my perspective on technology policy, and it's a community I've always been proud to be part of.”