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X Announces New Head of Safety as It Looks To Improve Its Moderation Processes

Yeah, this, I’m guessing, would be one of the tougher roles to be taking on amid Elon Musk’s rollercoaster-like reign at the app.

Today, X (formerly Twitter) has announced a new Head of Safety, with long-time Twitter/X staffer Kylie McRoberts taking on the role. Which used to be called “Trust and Safety”, but then Elon said that “Trust” was a euphemism for censorship or something, and cut it from the title. So it’s the same role, but “Trust” is apparently a bad word in Musk’s view.

In any event, McRoberts will now take on the unenviable task of keeping things civil in the app, while also adhering to Musk’s whims on what should and should not be moderated, what censorship actually means, who can and who can’t be restricted, etc.

Which changes as Elon himself sees fit.

X hasn’t had a Head of Safety since June last year, when the previous Trust and Safety chief Ella Irwin resigned after Musk questioned her actions in restricting the reach of a controversial documentary that had been posted to the app.

That documentary, which was essentially an anti-trans overview, had been amplified by Musk, and it seemed that Irwin and Musk had disagreed over what constituted safety in this respect.

Musk has continually expressed anti-trans views, and the documentary essentially aligned with his perspective. As such, Musk viewed its restriction as a mistake, but again, this is a perfect example of the minefield that McRoberts will now be wading into, as she tries to manage X’s rules in line with Musk’s personal beliefs.

Indeed, months after leaving X, Irwin, who had initially championed Musk’s transformation of the app, said that working for Elon had been “the hardest experience that I’ve gone through in my career.”

The platform’s previous head of Trust and Safety, Yoel Roth, resigned just weeks after Musk took over at the app. Musk then repeatedly attacked Roth via his public posts, honing in on Roth as a core architect of what Musk viewed as censorship by previous Twitter management. Elon also laid out a steady stream of personal attacks for good measure, which led to Roth having to leave his home for fear of being attacked by Musk’s supporters.

So again, probably not the ideal role for McRoberts, or anyone, to be taking on.

Aside from having to be malleable to Musk’s shifting stances, another key challenge in the role is that X has cut most of its Trust and Safety staff. Shortly after taking over at the app, Musk fired 80% of the engineers that Twitter had working on this element and dissolved its Trust and Safety Council, while also, as noted, losing Roth, an experienced leader in the field. Musk then implemented the platform’s new “freedom of speech, not reach” approach, which sees less content being removed in the app, while Elon also continues to amplify questionable posts from his own account, which is the most followed in the app.

The main focus of Elon’s slimmed-down moderation approach is Community Notes, crowd-sourced fact-checking, which Musk believes will ensure that optimal truth gains more traction in the app, while misinformation is challenged, and essentially downvoted by users.

Every expert in the field (including both Roth and Irwin) agrees that this is not an effective approach to moderation without other measures. But Musk’s view is that by empowering users to decide what’s correct and what’s not, that will facilitate a more beneficial and truth-oriented process, as opposed to relying on corporate moderation calls.

There are various flaws in this approach, but Elon continues to praise the value of Community Notes, which, at least in theory, should help to lessen the reach of harmful content, while also saving him a heap of money on labor costs.

The latter is likely a major motivator, though X has conceded that it will need to establish a new safety center, which, it announced in January, it’ll be looking to build in Texas. Though there’s been no further updates as yet.    

This is the scenario that McRoberts is now stepping into, though she will have some assistance, in the form of former Publicis Media EVP of Global Digital Standards Yale Cohen.

Will that be enough? Probably not, based on the evidence we have thus far, though you would assume that McRoberts is pretty well-versed in Musk’s approach and stances by now, which should help her align with his desires.

But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s out too in a month or so. Elon has repeatedly bent the rules, and even his own stated beliefs and stances, as he morphs his morals into whatever they need to be based on the latest focus of his ire.

Basically, Elon’s an unpredictable enigma, who’s emotions dictate much of his decision-making, and as such, he’s going to contradict any head of safety, or anyone trying to manage moderation, at some stage.

Whether that’s sooner or later will decide how long McRoberts sticks around, or maybe she will have the adaptability in her own reasoning to explain away Musk’s many quirks and shifts.  

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