“Nuclear war” should definitely count as “violence,” right?
While reports of American attacks in Syria and Afghanistan dominate the headlines, a potentially much more serious situation is brewing a few thousand miles to the east, where the United States has responded to a rumored North Korean nuclear test by moving a bunch of warships toward the Korean Peninsula. The New York Times calls this move "a show of resolve," which is an exceedingly polite term for describing the Trump administration's decision to provoke a dictator who possesses both nuclear weapons and a notoriously itchy trigger finger. Chinese officials are already describing the impending standoff using grim language that sounds equal parts nervous and post-apocalyptic:
The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent, and there have been storm clouds gathering. We urge all sides to no longer engage in mutual provocation and threats, whether through words or deeds, and don’t push the situation to the point where it can’t be turned around and gets out of hand...No matter who it is, if they let war break out on the peninsula, they must shoulder that historical culpability and pay the corresponding price for this.
Congratulations to whichever of your co-workers had "about 12 weeks" in the "How long will it take for President Trump to become embroiled in his first legitimately terrifying nuclear crisis?" office pool. Make them buy drinks at happy hour tonight.
One of the biggest irritants to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, apparently, has been Donald Trump's "provocations" on social media. The country's vice foreign minister ominously declared that the president "makes trouble" with his "aggressive" tweets, warning that his government is ready for war if Trump wants the same. Here's the evidence, complete with an inane "U.S.A." coda, like Trump briefly got caught up in another late-night viewing of that 30 for 30 about the Miracle on Ice:
When pre–White House Donald Trump used Twitter to share his takes on Deflategate or promote his shitty menswear brand, that was one thing. But now that he is president of the United States, the man's fondness for running his mouth (fingers?) about whatever happens to be on his mind has the potential to end extremely poorly.
Thankfully, there is a hero who could, in theory, help save the world from suffering an ignominious death by tweet: Twitter, which could suspend or [shudders in delight at the mere possibility] ban him altogether. Here, straight from the Twitter Rules, which are incorporated by reference into the Terms of Service:
The president has, ahem, arguably used Twitter to violate several of these rules before. But for now, focus on that first bullet point. I realize that when Twitter's lawyers put this thing together, "global nuclear war" was probably not within the scope of the "violence" that they intended to bar users from promoting. But I'm also going to go out on a limb here and say that that should probably count as violence. If, as here, there is evidence that the president is using Twitter to provoke a dangerous, war-happy nut job into putting millions of lives in jeopardy, it's fair to ask whether the service should respond—for the good of humankind—by locking him down for a while.
Other smart people have thoroughly analyzed (fantasized about?) this possibility before. In December, the Times's Farhad Manjoo argued that while Twitter has the right to suspend Trump, it also has a duty to think about how its actions "affect the larger world." At the time, Manjoo pointed out that booting the president would require the company to wade dangerously deep into political-censorship waters and set a precedent that could, in other contexts, be weaponized against activists, dissidents, and the like.
These are good and fair points. However, they were also made at a time when the bulk of our collective hand-wringing was over Trump's decisions to single out individuals who were thereafter subjected to harassment and threats. Now we're talking about atomic bombs. North Korea is run by grade-A blusterers who say crazy shit all the time, so it's possible that they don't want to hit that giant red LAUNCH button any more than the rest of the civilized world. But if the president's use of his Twitter account is really making that result more likely, and if putting him on ice for a while could "affect the larger world" by making that result less likely, they should really think about doing it!