President Trump’s tweets destabilize the world and have raised fears about stumbling into an accidental war with North Korea. If Twitter were a responsible company, it would disable the president’s account to remove that possibility.
Silencing Trump’s tweets was the goal of an aborted effort by Valerie Plame Wilson, the former CIA spy who launched an effort this summer to raise money to buy Twitter and then boot Trump. As it turned out, her effort seems to have been little more than a publicity stunt. But her point made sense.
The idea of deleting Trump’s account has come up before, usually after especially offensive rounds of inflammatory or inciting tweets. Trump has come close to violating Twitter’s written terms of service, and arguably crossed it.
But whether Trump has obeyed Twitter’s terms of service should be beside the point. Those rules were written with ordinary people in mind, not unstable world leaders.
The traditional Silicon Valley dodge is that companies like Facebook and Twitter are mere platforms, and bear no responsibility for how they’re used. But Twitter doesn’t owe President Trump a platform, any more than newspapers are obliged to print letters from every crackpot. Shutting down Trump’s account wouldn’t wouldn’t set any sort of precedent — except possibly for other Twitter users with immediate access to nuclear weapons.
As for his personal free speech rights, Trump would still have plenty of ways to communicate his views. What banning him from Twitter would do is enforce some delay — force the president to count to 10, as it were, and maybe even consult with advisers first. (And I know — what he says on TV isn’t much more temperate.)
Twitter needs Trump — he accounts for about $2 billion of the company’s value — and the company has made it clear that his account is staying. But allowing itself to be a conduit for saber-rattling is making the company complicit.
Alan Wirzbicki is a Globe editorial writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.