Future Tense

A Member of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council Explains Why She Got Fed Up and Quit

Eirliani Abdul Rahman helped the platform stop youth sexual exploitation. The new boss wasn’t listening.

The Twitter logo on the side of a building
Constanza Hevia/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s a horrible day for me,” says Eirliani Abdul Rahman, speaking with me on the phone just hours after resigning from an advisory role she’d held at Twitter for nearly seven years. “This was a very tough decision to make.”

The cuts and sweeping changes Elon Musk has made at Twitter since taking over have led a small but important corner of the social network to make some changes of its own. Abdul Rahman and two other members the company’s Trust and Safety Council quit on Thursday, alleging that Twitter’s new leadership had shut it out.

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The council is a voluntary group of experts and civil society organizations tasked with advocating for user safety and guiding Twitter policy to “improve the health of the public conversation.” The body, which started in February 2016 after a moment of company crisis—including the departure of several key leaders and an all-time-low stock price—has long advised Twitter leadership on hefty issues like human rights, harassment, and suicide prevention, with the input of executives from prominent groups like Article 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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At least, they did do this before Musk took over, after which it became apparent the council’s work was no longer a priority. Just days after he became company head, Trust and Safety staffers at Twitter found themselves barred from using the content moderation tools they normally had access to, as Bloomberg reported at the time; the neglect and “ghosting” of the council led members like Danielle Keats Citron (also a Slate contributor) to ask the company if her group was even “still a thing,” or if Musk was aware of its existence at all. Plus, one of Musk’s first moves was to fire Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy, trust, and safety, who’d acted as the liaison between the Trust and Safety Council and Twitter’s C-suite.

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Since taking over, the new Chief Twit has reached out to the council “zero times,” Abdul Rahman says, despite its efforts to raise concerns about aspects of Twitter’s new direction (and despite the fact that it’s the only Twitter consultant group of its kind). This, along with an “unprecedented rise” in hate speech and the reinstatement of banned accounts like Donald Trump’s, led Abdul Rahman and fellow council members Anne Collier and Lesley Podesta to publicly step down on Thursday morning. “I can no longer find a reason to stay in tacit support of what Twitter has become,” Collier wrote.

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Abdul Rahman—a council participant from the very beginning, along with Collier—knew firsthand the type of influence and impact her group could make. In previous years, she was able to meet with then-CEO Jack Dorsey and stress the need to hold verified users extra accountable for their rhetoric if it violated Twitter’s rules. As a child sexual abuse survivor herself, and co-founder of the assault advocacy org Youth, Adult Survivors & Kin in Need, Abdul Rahman also became a go-to expert for Twitter’s efforts to stop youth sexual exploitation on the platform. And, as the council’s “first female representative from Asia,” she had an awareness of Twitter’s effects on countries like India and her native Singapore; she was recruited for the council by Twitter’s Asia-Pacific outpost after launching a viral anti–child sex abuse social media campaign in late 2015.

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It wasn’t like all was smooth before the Musk era. In 2019, Wired got ahold of a letter from the Trust and Safety Council complaining to Dorsey about lapsed communication between the company and the council’s participants; Abdul Rahman admitted that this was a “low point” in their relationship. But later that year, Twitter expanded council membership to bring in more expert organizations—growing the list from at least 30 members to more than 70 of them—and to focus their work on distinct areas, like users’ mental health. So even when things were frostier than usual, members could feel like the company was still responsive to them. Abdul Rahman told me she believed Dorsey was genuinely “interested” in tweeters’ “mental resilience” and ensuring that political discussions on the app were safe and open.

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After Dorsey stepped down as CEO in November 2021, the council didn’t have much direct contact with new CEO Parag Agrawal, Abdul Rahman said—but even that was preferable to the complete stonewalling by Musk. It wasn’t as though they were against him from jump; Abdul Rahman stated that she’d “always admired Musk and his innovativeness with Tesla.” But after weeks of failed outreach to the electric car titan, while he appeared to be learning the complexities of content moderation in real time and changing policy on a whim via public polls, she didn’t see any point. “Musk is tweeting something online—a policy changes. He’s doing polls online—a policy changes. That’s not how policy should be done,” Abdul Rahman said to me. “There should be a scientific, evidence-based approach. And we should be considering people’s mental health.”

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One council member had resigned right at the moment Musk took the helm, so Abdul Rahman, Collier, and Podesta decided to follow suit in order to bring both public and internal attention to the council and its role. Podesta tweeted on Thursday that it was “so depressing watching the breakdown of a culture that worked hard to get policies on safety & moderation right.”

With their departures, the Trust and Safety Council has about 70 members left. More haven’t resigned yet, Abdul Rahman claimed, either because they believe they can still influence Musk, or because they’re worried about leaving such a position while Big Tech continues to shrink its resources and content moderation capacity. If Musk doesn’t engage with the remainers, though, they’ll have to decide if continuing a one-way dialogue is really worth their time.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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