Instructions for beginners shared on Twitter

Last week, former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly offered Russian soldiers information about ways they could sabotage their T-72 main battle tanks (MBTs). The T-72, which was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, remains the most widely used tank currently in service with the Russian military in Ukraine. A true product of traditional Soviet design philosophy, it only featured entirely new components when necessary. The result was a tank that could be described as much more ‘evolutionary’ than ‘revolutionary’. A total of 17,831 of the original T-72 series tanks were produced in the Soviet Union until their collapse in 1990.

The Russian army subsequently operates around 9,000 of the older T-72s.

Ukrainian forces were successful in destroying large numbers of Russian tanks using modern anti-tank weapons, including the US-made Javelin and British NLAW, but there were also reports that Russian soldiers also purposely damaged or destroyed their own MBTs.

In a series of tweets, Kelly, who has served as commander of the International Space Station and has been an outspoken critic of the Russian government and its invasion of Ukraine, offered several tips on “How to Sabotage Your Russian Tank: Instructions for Beginners.”

Kelly was reportedly briefed on the best ways to sabotage the T-72 MBT of (retired) United States Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. General Hertling, who had previously served as a commander for the US Army in Europe and the Seventh Army was also a veteran tanker, shared an English version of the instructions.

In one of the tweets, Hertling recommended: “Put a white flag on the turret, turn the barrel of the gun back and point it towards the sky and drive towards the Ukrainian lines. This is the universal signal among oil tankers to surrender.” .

Twitter made no effort to remove the tweets, even though it included instructions on how to disable military equipment — and it could apply to other vehicles.

“There is a theory that this is dangerous speech, but this legal theory only applies if it can incite violence in the United States. From a legal definition, it is not dangerous speech. However, it could result in a response from Moscow that affects Putin’s foreign policy. As such, it can be reckless speech,” explained Matthew J. Schmidt, PhD, associate professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven.

In that sense, it might not be too different from how Senator Lindsey Graham called for the assassination of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on social media in early March, shortly after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“Absolutely, that kind of comment might be going too far,” suggested Schmidt. “These comments are not foreign policy, but tactical advice.”

The question then is whether Twitter, and any other social platform, has any obligation to police this content?

“Twitter will claim that it is not a journalistic organization and does not have the same ethical requirement to police content that could harm national security in the way that it does.” Forbes or The New York Times newspaper are obligated to do,” added Schmidt. “Twitter will say they don’t have that requirement because their news providers are infinite and their publishers are not.”

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