Twitter's "Head of Site Integrity" Yoel Roth boasts on his LinkedIn that he is in charge of "developing and enforcing Twitter’s rules," like the one that led Twitter to slap a new "misleading" warning label on two of President Trump's tweets concerning nationwide mail-in balloting on Tuesday.
However, Roth's own barrage of anti-Trump, politically charged tweets seemingly calls into question whether he should be creating guidelines for the president and other Twitter users, especially when Twitter is under fire for its alleged left-wing bias.
Commentators, meanwhile, have argued that Trump's tweets on the risks of mail-in voting were not actually misleading, and the president accused Twitter of seeking to "interfere" in the upcoming election under the guise of a supposedly neutral "fact-checking" policy. Experts have said that a "genuine absentee ballot fraud scandal" is currently underway in a New Jersey city council election, for example.
Roth has previously referred to Trump and his team as "ACTUAL NAZIS," mocked Trump supporters by saying that "we fly over those states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason," and called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a "personality-free bag of farts." Last August, Twitter suspended McConnell's Twitter account, prompting the GOP to threaten to cut off advertising on the site until Twitter relented.
In September 2016, Roth tweeted, "I’ve never donated to a presidential campaign before, but I just gave $100 to Hillary for America. We can’t fu-k around anymore."
When Trump won the November 2016 election, Roth dejectedly chalked the development up to "[Bernie] Sanders protest voters, and racism," before sounding more optimistic notes.
"I’m almost ready to stop dwelling on how my friends are complicit in the election of Donald Trump," he said on Jan. 7, 2017. "Almost."
"Massive anti-Trump protest headed up Valencia St," Roth wrote on Jan. 20, 2017, followed by a "heart" emoji and the words "San Francisco."
In response to this story, Twitter spokesperson told Fox News: "No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it's unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions."
Twitter separately linked Fox News to a post from communications VP Brandon Borrman: "No one person here is responsible for our polices or enforcement actions. People who decide to target one person for decisions they don't agree with know damn well what they're doing."
Twitter declined to elaborate as to why Roth's apparent biases were not relevant given what he has acknowledged is a leading role in deciding how to flag certain discourse on the platform.
Indeed, Roth sometimes opened up about his heart, and apparent political bias, on Twitter. "'Every time a cute boy uses an Android phone, I die inside' is the new 'Every time a cute boy tells me he's a Republican, I die inside,'" he said in 2011.
"I occasionally worry that my mother WASN'T joking all those times she told us she was voting Republican," he wrote in 2012.
For the most part, though, Roth urged his followers to unite, especially after Trump's inauguration.
"The 'you are not the right kind of feminist' backlash to yesterday's marches has begun," Roth wrote on Jan. 22, 2017. "Did we learn nothing from this election?"
Also on Jan. 22, 2017, Roth compared senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Exacerbating matters, Roth previously authored a slew of posts bluntly referring to what he calls "trannies." In 2010, he wrote: "It wouldn't be a trip to New York without at least one big scary tranny." In 2012, he tweeted: "A 10 block cab ride can seem so much longer when the driver tells you about that time he thought a tranny hooker was a 'real girl.'"
"Tranny hookers in Birkenstocks. Philadelphia: a city of contradictions," he mused on July 24, 2011. "All the fags took him to heart," Roth wrote on March 21, 2009, referring to Christian Siriano of "Project Runway" fame.
When another user criticized his language, Roth held his ground. "Trans is a category worth being linguistically destabilized in the same way we did gay with 'fag,'" he wrote. "Sorry, but I don’t subscribe to PC passing the buck. Identity politics is for everyone."
Yoel says on his personal website that he received his PhD in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania by "studying privacy and safety on gay social networks."
"These are the kids that are fact checking the President of the United States," remarked Heather Champion, a commentator on social media. Several of Roth's tweets were first resurfaced by The New York Post's Jon Levine early Wednesday morning.
Roth's most polemical and political posts, which do not carry any warning label, were under extra scrutiny as Trump accused Twitter of "interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election" by again acting out of apparent left-wing bias. The president vowed to take unspecified action. On Wednesday morning, Trump threatened to "strongly regulate" or "close down" social media platforms that "silence conservatives' voices."
The episode began early Tuesday when, Trump wrote: "There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mailboxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one. That will be followed up with professionals telling all of these people, many of whom have never even thought of voting before, how, and for whom, to vote. This will be a Rigged Election. No way!!"
Within hours, Twitter then appended an unprecedented label to the bottom of the tweet reading, "Get the facts about mail-in ballots." Clicking that label brings readers to a paragraph reading in part: "Experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud. ... Fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud."
Twitter's warning label was placed on Trump's tweets even though a Twitter spokesperson acknowledged to Fox News that Trump's tweet had not broken any of the platform's rules, and despite the fact that several experts have called mail-in balloting an invitation to widespread fraud, as Trump said in his tweets.
"Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud," read the conclusion of a bipartisan 2005 report authored by the Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker.
"Twitter 'fact-checkers' really suck," wrote Dan Bongino, a Fox News contributor. He linked to a 2012 article in The New York Times headlined, "Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises." The article states that "votes cast by mail are less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show."
A Twitter thread Tuesday by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany highlighted numerous recent stories documenting fraud concerns over mail-in ballots across the country, including a Fox News piece.
"Literally nothing has convinced me of the threat to election integrity posed by mail-in ballots so much as Twitter and other media furiously insisting you can't talk about it at all and working so hard to suppress the discussion of its (completely obvious) risks," wrote The Federalist's Mollie Hemingway, who is also a Fox News contributor.
The brouhaha erupted just two months after Twitter flagged a video uploaded by the Trump campaign as "manipulated media," only to rebuff the campaign's efforts to have the platform flag a similar video uploaded by the Biden team.
In March, Roth sat for an interview with NPR, in which he emphasized that he was working to combat "election disinformation."
"I think in 2020, we're facing a particularly divisive political moment here in the United States, and attempts to capitalize on those divisions amongst Americans seem to be where malicious actors are headed," Roth said. "This is a similar pattern to what we saw in 2016 and 2018, but one of the things that we've seen from not only Russia but a wide range of malicious actors is an attempt to capitalize on some of the major domestic voices that are participating in these conversations and then double down on some of those activities."
On May 25, Roth took a seemingly cavalier attitude towards criticism, tweeting, "Somehow, regularly being told by internet strangers that I’m a soulless corporate shill is still less harsh feedback than I got from anonymous peer reviewers in my past academic life."
The Trump campaign, however, was less amused.
"We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters," Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. "Partnering with the biased fake news media 'fact checkers' is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility. There are many reasons the Trump campaign pulled all our advertising from Twitter months ago, and their clear political bias is one of them.“
And late Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, noted on Twitter that "The law still protects social media companies like @Twitter because they are considered forums not publishers. But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law."
That was a reference to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which broadly protects online content platforms from liability. For example, a defamatory comment posted by a Twitter user would not ordinarily lead to liability for Twitter, even if the platform allows the defamatory content to remain online after becoming aware of it.
Calls to reform the law have largely gone unheeded in recent years, even as sites like Twitter take on a more dominant role in national discourse. (Copyright law, which has a strong constitutional foundation, ordinarily does require sites like Twitter to remove offending content, or face liability.)
Reaction to Twitter's actions among commentators was almost uniformly negative. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto pointed out that Twitter hadn't fact-checked Trump's charge that the platform was interfering improperly in the election. "Hmm, no fact check on this so I guess it must be true!" he wrote.
Others observed that Twitter had not fact-checked a false claim on police shooting statistics that was shared by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
"It wouldn't be a trip to New York without at least one big scary tranny."
Separately, GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel wrote that Alabama's secretary of state, John Merrill, told CNN earlier in the day that five of the six voter fraud convictions during his tenure related to absentee balloting.
In a post retweeted by the Trump campaign, The Daily Caller's Logan Hall noted that Twitter has not appended a warning label on tweets from Chinese government representatives engaging in a propaganda campaign to blame the U.S. for the spread of coronavirus. "The deeper problem: many of the big tech companies that people hold near and dear to their hearts have no actual allegiance to America or American values," Hall wrote.
"Wow," wrote Michael James Coudrey, the CEO of Yuko Social, a social media engine for politicians and organizations. "Look what Twitter is doing to the President of the United States [sic] tweets. They are attaching a link then saying according to CNN and Washington Post, what he is saying is unsubstantiated. This is insane."
A Twitter spokesperson told Fox News earlier Tuesday that Trump's tweets "contain potentially misleading information about voting processes and have been labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots," and that "this decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month."
Twitter acknowledged Trump's tweet "is not in violation of the Twitter Rules as it does not directly try to dissuade people from voting — it does, however, contain misleading information about the voting process, specifically mail-in ballots, and we’re offering more context to the public."
Twitter did not respond to Fox News' inquiries about whether consideration was given for The Washington Post or CNN's political leanings, or why its warning label appeared to be contradictory -- saying both that there was "no evidence" that mail-in balloting leads to fraud, and at the same time, that there was indeed evidence that mail-in balloting had been linked to fraud, although only "very rarely."
However, Republicans have long argued that many states fail to adequately clean up their voter rolls. Last year, California was forced to remove 1.5 million ineligible voters after a court settlement last year when California's rolls showed a registration of 112 percent.
And, data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission indicates that roughly 28 million mail-in ballots have disappeared in the past decade.
“Elections in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 saw more than 28.3 million 'unaccounted for' mail ballots,” a report from the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) recently assessed.
“Putting the election in the hands of the United States Postal Service would be a catastrophe. Over the recent decade, there were 28 million missing and misdirected ballots,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said in a statement. “These represent 28 million opportunities for someone to cheat. Absentee ballot fraud is the most common; the most expensive to investigate; and can never be reversed after an election. The status quo was already bad for mail balloting. The proposed emergency fix is worse.”
Election integrity has become one of the upcoming election's most prominent issues. On May 20, Trump threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan if it pursued widescale mail-in balloting -- a questionably constitutional move, given general prohibitions against the federal government forcing state action on matters ordinarily within states' jurisdiction. Current laws generally allow absentee ballots to be sent in only if a specific reason is provided, but Democrats are seeking to rapidly expand mail-in voting while eliminating some verification steps, like signature verification.
"Michigan sends absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election," Trump wrote. "This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!"
The Republican National Committee (RNC) earlier this month launched ProtectTheVote.com, a digital platform that the GOP says is part of its all-hands-on-deck effort to "protect against the Democrats' assault on our elections" as progressives push for sweeping changes, including vote-by-mail and more ballot harvesting, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The launch came after the RNC and Trump campaign doubled their legal budget to $20 million after an initial commitment of $10 million in February, saying they wanted to "fight frivolous Democrat lawsuits and uphold the integrity of the elections process."
That was a message echoed by Trump in a tweet last month: "GET RID OF BALLOT HARVESTING, IT IS RAMPANT WITH FRAUD. THE USA MUST HAVE VOTER I.D., THE ONLY WAY TO GET AN HONEST COUNT!"
Suspicion of big tech has reached a critical mass in recent months. Also on Tuesday, Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey discovered that YouTube was censoring comments critical of the Chinese government. YouTube called the censorship a mistake, but offered no details; Republicans, in turn, sought a closer look.
"Is Project Dragonfly going global?" wrote Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Banks, referring to Google's since-scrapped search engine that would have censored results to appease the Chinese government. "Google must stop imitating #CCP censorship practices now. "