Swarthmore College
Decentralizing online safety: The promises and perils of federated social media
with Yoel Roth ‘11, Knight Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania
Monday, March 4, 4:30-6pm, Scheuer Room, Kohlberg Hall, Swarthmore College


Years of sustained research, activism, regulatory intervention, and investment by civil society and technology platforms has helped bring about awareness of and some degree of control over the harmful externalities generated by social media platforms. As the social media landscape undergoes broad transformation for the first time in over a decade, with alternative platforms like Mastodon, Bluesky, and Threads emerging where Twitter has receded, the temptation has been to celebrate the promise of these new services and their visions of alternative governance structures that empower consumers. Unfortunately, they also have many of the same affordances and propensities for harmful misuse as mainstream, while possessing few if any of the hard-won detection and moderation capabilities necessary to stop them. More troublingly, substantial technological, governance, and financial obstacles exist to developing these necessary functions. Drawing on empirical research into platform moderation capabilities, this talk discusses the ambivalent consequences of social media’s transformation, and proposes specific interventions to head off the possibility that these services merely recreate the harmful patterns of Web 2.0.

Yoel Roth ’11 is a Knight Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, a Technology Policy Fellow at UC Berkeley, and a Non-Resident Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His research and writing focus on trustworthy governance approaches for social media, AI, and other emerging technologies.

Previously, he was the Head of Trust & Safety at Twitter. For more than 7 years, he helped build and lead the teams responsible for Twitter’s content moderation, integrity, and security efforts. He wrote about the circumstances surrounding his resignation in the New York Times: “Trump Attacked Me, Then Musk Did. It Wasn’t an Accident”

Yoel graduated from Swarthmore with highest honors in Political Science and Film and Media Studies and received his PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching examined the technical, policy, business, and cultural dynamics of social networking and dating apps at the dawn of the “App Store” age. 

Presented with support from the Center for Innovation and Leadership as part of their Leadership in Practice series. Cosponsored by the Departments of Computer Science, Film and Media Studies, and Political Science.

Yoel Roth Poster