Failure to adhere to Apple and Google’s app store guidelines would be “catastrophic” for Twitter, the firm’s former trust and safety chief has said.
The company’s new owner Elon Musk has claimed he strongly supports free speech and wants to allow more of it on the site, though critics have suggested that is contradicted by his removal of staff who disagree with his opinions.
Yoel Roth’s departure from the company was labelled last week as a major blow after many raised concerns about the Twitter Blue subscription being abused by bad actors buying a blue tick to pose as real people and businesses to commit fraud and spread misinformation on the platform.
Writing in the New York Times, Mr Roth noted the app stores represent the “most significant check on unrestrained free speech on the mainstream internet”.
He said: “Failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic, risking Twitter’s expulsion from their app stores and making it more difficult for billions of potential users to get Twitter’s services. This gives Apple and Google enormous power to shape the decisions Twitter makes.”
He added: “Reviewers hint that app approval could be delayed or perhaps even withheld entirely if issues are not resolved to their satisfaction — although the standards for resolution are often implied.
“Even as they appear to be driven largely by manual checks and anecdotes, these review procedures have the power to derail company plans and trigger all-hands-on-deck crises for weeks or months at a time.”
Mr Musk’s mission to “free the bird” is also constrained by the influence of advertisers as well as the laws and regulations of the countries in which Twitter operates, Mr Roth said.
He said the European Union’s chief platform regulator had reminded the SpaceX and Telsa boss that an unmoderated “free-for-all won’t fly”, while members of the US Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have flagged concerns about Twitter’s recent actions.
“In the longer term, the moderating influences of advertisers, regulators and, most critically of all, app stores may be welcome for those of us hoping to avoid an escalation in the volume of dangerous speech online,” Mr Roth wrote.
“Twitter will have to balance its new owner’s goals against the practical realities of life on Apple’s and Google’s internet — no easy task for the employees who have chosen to remain.
“And as I departed the company, the calls from the app review teams had already begun.”