Trump’s Threat to Commit War Crimes Is Totally Cool with Twitter

The platform's policies give wide leeway to world leaders in the interest of letting users see newsworthy information.
January 6, 2020, 7:14pm
The platform's policies give wide leeway to world leaders in the interest of letting users see newsworthy information.

President Trump used his favorite media platform to say he’ll let Congress know by tweet if more strikes on Iran are coming. And his tweeted threat to destroy Iranian cultural sites might be a war crime if carried out.

But Twitter is cool with all that.

The company tries to promote “healthy conversation” with rules against violent threats and other illegal activities. But its policies give wide leeway to world leaders in the interest of letting users see newsworthy information. It’s basically a license for Trump to ratchet up tensions with Tehran in 280-character tantrums.

On Saturday, two days after ordering the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the president threatened to bomb areas important to the country’s heritage. The United Nations Security Council condemned the tactic as a possible war crime in 2017 in response to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda similarly targeting cultural sites.

“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” Trump tweeted.

The next day, the president added on Twitter that “These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any U.S. person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner.”

That probably wasn’t what lawmakers had in mind when writing the War Powers Act of 1973. The statute requires the president to give Congress formal notice of American military action within 48 hours. While the Trump administration did provide that notice to Congress on Saturday, it contained only classified information.

Democrats are already lashing into Trump for his wild promise for more “Media Posts” in the event of escalation. But we’re going to have to live with them.

“The Tweets are not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” a company spokesperson told VICE News.

Twitter carved out a public-interest exception to its policies in 2017, which coincidentally was Trump’s first year in office. The idea is to allow other users to view and debate statements by public officials that would get other people kicked off the site.

“Presently, direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules,” the company added in an update last October. “However, if a Tweet from a world leader does violate the Twitter Rules but there is a clear public interest value to keeping the Tweet on the service, we may place it behind a notice that provides context about the violation and allows people to click through should they wish to see the content.”

Trump hasn’t hit that bar — yet.

Cover: President Donald Trump speaks as he welcomes Paraguay's President Mario Abdo Benítez to the White House in the Oval Office on December 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)(Sipa via AP Images)