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Trump’s Campaign And Fox News Are Attacking A Twitter Employee Because They Think He Fact-Checked The President. They Have The Wrong Guy.

“No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “It's unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions.”

Last updated on May 27, 2020, at 11:52 p.m. ET

Posted on May 27, 2020, at 1:19 p.m. ET

Fox News

Right-wing media and Trump supporters are targeting a Twitter employee after the platform fact-checked President Donald Trump for the first time on Tuesday, applying its label for misleading tweets from world leaders to two tweets he sent about mail-in ballots in California. Yet according to the company, it was not that employee's responsibility to fact-check the tweet.

Trump’s tweets claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to increased voter fraud — which Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program, told BuzzFeed News there was no evidence for. Twitter added a label below the tweets that said, "Get the facts about mail-in ballots." Upon clicking the link, people would see the following message: "Trump makes unsubstantiated claim that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud."

The Trump fact-check set off fury from Republicans. “Yep. It’s pretty simple: if Twitter and Google and the rest are going to editorialize and censor and act like traditional publishers, they should be treated like traditional publishers and stop receiving the special carve out from the federal government in Section 230,” Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted on Wednesday morning, following a similar complaint from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio the previous night.

Twitter

As the right-wing criticisms of the site grew, conservatives settled on a single scapegoat: Twitter's head of site integrity, Yoel Roth. On Tuesday night, three-year-old anti-Trump tweets of Roth’s that were screenshotted and tweeted by New York Post reporter Jon Levine.

“This person is the ‘head of site integrity’ at Twitter,” Levine tweeted, sharing Roth’s old tweets, which included: “I’m just saying, we fly over the states that voted for a racist tangerine for a reason" and “Yes, that person in the pink hat is clearly a bigger threat to your brand of feminism than ACTUAL NAZIS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.”

Levine’s tweet has been retweeted over 20,000 times, including by the president's son Eric Trump, far-right actor James Woods, and Fox News host Brit Hume. Roth has also been written about by the Daily Mail, Breitbart News, and the Daily Wire. And ire against him has spread past the site for which he works: According to social metrics site CrowdTangle, his name has driven 32,000 interactions on Facebook since Tuesday. A Fox News article about him was shared to “X22 Report [Geopolitical],” one of the larger QAnon groups on Facebook. Trump’s campaign Twitter account retweeted Levine’s post and then tweeted about Roth twice more on Wednesday.

But the coverage and complaints about Roth are based on a basic misunderstanding of his job: He's not the person who decided to fact-check the president.

But the coverage and complaints about Roth are based on a basic misunderstanding of his job: He's not the person who decided to fact-check the president.

A spokesperson for Twitter on Wednesday told BuzzFeed News that Roth was not responsible for fact-checking Trump’s tweets, adding that he would not be put on leave or reprimanded in any way.

“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,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Roth was not available to comment, due to the deluge of abuse he’s currently getting online.

Roth has worked at Twitter since 2015 and currently heads the platform’s Site Integrity team, which deals with platform manipulation, bots, and foreign interference campaigns — not fact-checking — although it is a sub-team of the Trust and Safety team, which was the group that made the decision on Tuesday.

On Wednesday evening, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he took responsibility for the Trump fact-check, tweeting, "Fact check: there is someone ultimately accountable for our actions as a company, and that’s me. Please leave our employees out of this. We’ll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally. And we will admit to and own any mistakes we make."

This does not make us an “arbiter of truth.” Our intention is to connect the dots of conflicting statements and show the information in dispute so people can judge for themselves. More transparency from us is critical so folks can clearly see the why behind our actions.

Twitter

Regardless, Fox News dedicated several segments on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to singling Roth out specifically.

Fox News
Fox News

Roth’s tweets were embedded in a Fox News story devoted entirely to painting him as an anti-Trump activist secretly pulling the strings within Twitter. Host Charles Payne mentioned his name during a Fox & Friends segment Wednesday morning. During a different Fox & Friends segment, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway spelled out his name and Twitter handle. “Somebody in San Francisco will wake him up and tell him he's about to get a lot more followers,” Conway said. Her remarks were then reported in a different Fox News story about Roth.

And Conway threat materialized: As of Wednesday morning, Roth’s account was flooded with abuse. "@yoyoel IS A FRAUD! Label that #LIAR," one person tweeted.

During its shareholder meeting on Wednesday, Twitter General Counsel Sean Edgett said the decision to fact-check the president's tweets was made by a group of employees. "We have a group and committee of folks who take a look at these things and make decisions on what's getting a lot of visibility and interaction, and where there's a lot of conversation, and where we feel like we should be applying a label," he said.

Trump's tweets were reported by a third-party organization that works with the platform. Twitter's trust and safety team reviewed the tweets to decide if they violated the company's policies and needed to be pulled down. The president's tweets were left up, but it was decided they would include a misleading information label. Senior executives were informed of the decision, after which Twitter's broader public policy team and the communication teams were informed.

That decision came after weeks of pressure mounting to label tweets from the president that contained misinformation. As of Tuesday night, Trump had tweeted six times, most recently over Memorial Day weekend, about a decades-old conspiracy theory that falsely claimed that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was involved in the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis, a staffer who worked in his Florida office when he served in Congress.

Last week, Klausutis's widower, T.J. Klausutis, wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking him to remove the president's tweets, but Twitter refused.

A spokesperson for Twitter told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that the fact-checked Trump tweets contained potentially misleading information about voting processes and were labeled to provide additional context around mail-in ballots. It was the first time the site had taken action against content unrelated to COVID-19 since it launched the tool on May 11.

"This decision is in line with the approach we shared earlier this month," the spokesperson said.

Additional reporting by Alex Kantrowitz.


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