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Twitter policy chief faces wave of harassment amid Musk criticism

Employees are reportedly concerned about getting put on blast

The Twitter bird logo in white against a dark background with outlined logos around it and red circles rippling out from it. Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Twitter’s policy and legal head Vijaya Gadde is facing criticism from new owner Elon Musk and harassment from Twitter users while trying to shepherd Twitter’s moderation team into a new era. Politico reported yesterday on a team meeting where Gadde acknowledged (in the article’s words) “significant uncertainties” about the future of Twitter under Musk.

Musk then replied to a tweet from conservative journalist Saagar Enjeti criticizing Gadde. Enjeti had linked to a screenshot of the story, calling Gadde Twitter’s “top censorship advocate” and claiming she “censored the Hunter Biden laptop story” by temporarily and confusingly banning links to a New York Post story about President Joe Biden’s son. “Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate,” Musk tweeted in response. Musk had previously indicated he will push for a version of Twitter with lighter moderation, a move that could involve scaling back a decade of gradual change under Gadde.

Gadde faced vitriolic and racist invective on Twitter in the wake of Musk’s response, as noted by Financial Times correspondent Dave Lee. She’s also not the only employee Musk has drawn negative attention to. He separately replied to a tweet from far-right writer Mike Cernovich claiming Twitter deputy general counsel Jim Baker “facilitated fraud,” saying the claim “sounds pretty bad.”

Musk is officially banned from “disparaging” Twitter as part of the merger agreement, and his initial engagement with both employees was oblique. But his active social media presence means many Twitter users quickly dogpiled both of them — often, in Gadde’s case, mocking her for a Politico headline saying she cried at the meeting. Musk then escalated his attack on Gadde more directly on Wednesday afternoon, tweeting a meme image about “Twitter’s left-wing bias” that featured her.

According to The Washington Post, the threat of drawing Musk’s online ire has caused concern internally, with employees reportedly asking in a Monday town hall meeting “for assurance that they would be able to safely do their jobs if Musk targeted them.” Gadde, notably, was not the highest-level executive involved in the New York Post saga — then-CEO Jack Dorsey publicly apologized for the decision to block the New York Post story, which he said had been “wrong,” while Gadde also announced changes to the policy.

Dorsey has not responded publicly to Musk’s new comments.

It’s not clear how much harassment Gadde would have faced even without Musk’s direct involvement. She’s a long-standing target of people who oppose Twitter’s moderation policies and was already in the spotlight because of the internal events reported by Politico.

If anything, the conflict’s primary lesson might be how unpleasant Twitter’s design can already be for even its own employees in ways that Musk’s changes might only exacerbate. Musk has promoted his purchase of Twitter in idealistic terms, calling it an opportunity to foster a “digital town square” where most legal speech is tolerated. (This apparently won’t extend to automated accounts, a decision that could pose its own problems.) But at a more pragmatic level, anti-harassment tools and stricter rules are a way to improve Twitter’s user experience for its most active accounts. Twitter’s moderation team will need to recalibrate those rules to suit Musk’s new direction for the site — although, with months to go before the deal closes, that may not happen for some time.

Update 3:45PM ET: Added news of a later Musk tweet directly focusing on Gadde.