A former Twitter executive testified on Wednesday that he was forced to leave and sell his home following a campaign of “homophobic and antisemitic” harassment over the company’s handling of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden.
Yoel Roth, the former head of safety at Twitter, made the comments while speaking to a committee in the newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives, at a hearing convened to scrutinize the social network’s handling of a 2020 report on Joe Biden’s son.
Related: Republicans grill ex-Twitter executives over handling of Hunter Biden story
Roth said the release of the so-called Twitter Files by Twitter’s new CEO, Elon Musk, lead to a campaign of harassment against him and other employees. The harassment intensified when Musk and others amplified “defamatory” claims that he condones pedophilia, Roth said.
The Twitter Files, shared by Musk in December 2022, was a series of internal records showing how the company initially stopped the story – which the Post said was based a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive from Donald Trump’s then personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani – from being shared, citing the company’s internal policy on “hacked materials” and concerns from Biden’s campaign, among other factors.
Roth said the release of the Twitter Files, which included his name along with those of other decision makers at the company, had “very real consequences” for his safety. “This lie led directly to a wave of homophobic and antisemitic attacks against me … of which Twitter has removed vanishingly little. And following the Daily Mail’s decision to publish where I live. I had to leave my home and sell it.”
Roth noted he was not the only one affected, saying lower-level Twitter staff around the world, including the Philippines, “had their families threatened and experienced harm equal to or greater than what I’ve experienced”.
“Those are the consequences for this type of online harassment and speech,” he concluded.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat representing the District of Columbia, said Roth’s testimony showed the dangers of “legitimizing unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the deep state, big tech and government and government censorship for political gain”.
“Committee Republicans are holding a match to a powder keg,” she said.
Her point was underscored when the extremist Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, who was temporarily banned from Twitter for sharing Covid-19 misinformation, used her questioning period to attack Roth, doubling down on unfounded and homophobic conspiracy theories.
“I’m so glad you’ve lost your jobs,” she said. “I am so glad Elon Musk bought Twitter.”
Wednesday’s hearing underscored a renewed interest from Republicans in wielding their power to pursue unproven claims that social media firms have anti-conservative biases, fanning partisan flames along the way. The lawmakers seem to have found an ally in Musk, who has given more fuel to such assertions with the Twitter Files and other tweets.
Experts say Musk’s takeover of Twitter and sympathetic views towards such conspiracy theories could increase the risk for misinformation and harassment on the platform.
Related: Tears, blunders and chaos: inside Elon Musk’s Twitter
“This is somebody who flirts with conspiracy theories, has regularly retweeted conspiracy theories has re platformed conspiracy theorists and hate mongers and white supremacists and all kinds of nefarious actors,” Jessica J González, co-chief executive officer of the civil rights group Free Press, said of Musk.
Other former senior Twitter staff, including Vijaya Gadde, the social network’s former chief legal officer, former deputy general counsel James Baker and former safety leader Anika Collier Navaroli, also testified in the hearing, stating that decisions around content moderation are complex and difficult.
Democratic lawmakers said during the hearing that attacks on former Twitter staff were a “distraction” and that the witnesses had already declared under oath there was no collusion between the government and Twitter to suppress conservative speech.
“We’re wasting our time here bullying former Twitter employees,” said Maxwell Frost, a Democratic representative from Florida. “I’ve been sitting here for over two hours and I’m not really seeing the point of this hearing.”