On Monday morning North Korea’s foreign minister told journalists gathered near the United Nations that president Trump’s recent tweet approximately North Korea were a declaration of war against his country. Trump’s “they won’t be around much longer!” tweet and North Korea’s interpretation of it are the latest in a series of escalations between the two powers that possess set the international community on high alert. Since Trump made the comment on Twitter, nowadays’s comments from North Korea also raise the question: does a threat that leads to a declaration of war violate the company’s opaque rules for conduct and its prohibitions against harassment and incitement?
Twitter appears unwilling to weigh in. Asked for comment on Trump’s September 23rd tweet — specifically whether it violates the company’s terms of service — a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News it “does not comment on individual accounts for privacy and security reasons.”
Twitter’s silence comes as tiny surprise — the company’s decision not to comment on individual accounts for privacy reasons (even when the account is held by the President of the United States to conduct government commerce, trade) is a long-held policy designed to shield the company from accountability. And while Trump has continually tested the limits of Twitter’s rules throughout his candidacy and presidency, the latest escalation, this specific tweet is clearly uncharted territory for the social network.
Following a strict interpretation of Twitter’s rules, Trump’s recent tweet — a clear threat toward North Korea’s foreign minister — is likely a violation of Twitter’s rules, which state that “you may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others” and defines abusive incitement as:
whether a primary purpose of the reported account is to harass or send abusive messages to others;
whether the reported behavior is one-sided or includes threats;
whether the reported account is inciting others to harass another account; and
whether the reported account is sending harassing messages to an account from multiple accounts.
Historically, Twitter’s interpretation and enforcement of its rules possess been inconsistent. And though Twitter told Slate late final year that its policies apply to sum its users, the company has been reluctant to weigh in on Trump’s conduct on its platform. In December 2016 the company declined to comment when Trump used his Twitter account to lambaste Chuck Jones, an Indiana union organizer who criticized him; The Washington Post reported that Jones was inundated with threatening phone calls as a result. And the company took no action this summer when Trump tweeted a meme that showed him as a wrestler body slamming the CNN logo — an instance that some interpreted as a threat against at journalists.
For tweets like these, the original York Times has dubbed Trump the “Cyberbully in Chief” and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has described his feelings approximately Trump’s exhaust of Twitter as “complicated.” But Monday’s statements threaten to raise the stakes for the social network and present a series of difficult policy questions as to how it enforces its rules with the commander in chief. Among them: does the President of the United States merit a Twitter rules exemption? Is a tweet interpreted as a declaration of war a violation of the company’s terms of service?
This is — again — uncharted territory for the social network. But the longstanding lack of clarity around Twitter’s terms of service and its enforcement of them is only going to draw more scrutiny given the conduct of its most powerful user.
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in original York. Warzel reports on and writes approximately the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at [email protected].
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