Twitter recently altered the functionality of their block button. A large amount of people, many of whom seem to spend an inordinate amount of time revelling in their ability to block someone (and treat it almost like a sport), are up in arms about the new policy and are petitioning Twitter to change it back.
If you’ve used a chat room, a forum/bulletin board, or played an online video game, you’ve probably had a Mute/Block/Ignore button at your disposal. What this does is filter out that particular user’s output. Having been used to this (to my mind, effective) system, when I started using Twitter and Facebook, I was surprised to see that blocking someone had the effect in both directions. It was as if not only had you blocked them, but they had also blocked you. That seemed slightly odd. What if I wanted to mute someone but I didn’t want to prevent them from seeing what I was saying (because I didn’t want to be vindictive about it)? What if I’ve been blocked by someone who just didn’t want to see me any more, but wouldn’t have minded me still seeing what they had to say?
I don’t get blocked on Twitter a lot, but I have been. I was following one user who I genuinely found interesting. We had a disagreement on an issue, and, though I was polite to them, they got angry and retaliated by blocking me. After that, I was no longer notified when they had a new blog post up, and I could no longer follow a feed that I found interesting. This had nothing to do with harassment, since they were the one who started the argument and tweeted me with the disagreement.
I don’t really see why having the blocked person being forced to also mute the blocker really helps anything. If anything, it can exacerbate the issue, by making the blocked person angry at seeing that they are blocked and no longer in control of what they can have in their timeline and who they can follow. As someone else pointed out on Twitter – one is surely more likely to make a ‘sock puppet’ account to get around the block if they are aware they have been blocked and that their other account is limited in such a way. According to the Forbes article linked above, that’s one of the reasons Twitter officials are giving for the change.
One reason why one might want the two-way block has been pointed out to me – that it might discourage the sorts of people who screenshot tweets and Facebook comments and put them in a ‘rage’ blog post in which they try to vilify that Twitter user for their (usually out-of-context) opinions. I can see that, but all they had to do before was either sign out of Twitter, or stay signed into Twitter but use a “Private Browsing” or “Incognito” window on their browser. This gives you an additional window with with you can be logged out of your Twitter account at the same time as being logged in. So while I can see that it may discourage the ‘timeline-trawling’ a little, it wouldn’t discourage anyone who really wanted to write that angry blog post. That was the workaround for following someone who’s blocked you. For retweeting them it was as simple as a manual retweet, which many people do to people who haven’t blocked them.
Finally, imagine you really hate someone and put a photo up in the privacy of your bedroom to throw knives at. Is that a mentally healthy thing to do? No. Is it harassment? No, since they are completely unaware of what you’re doing. A necessary condition of something being classed as ‘harassment’ is, to my mind, the fact that the ‘recipient’ actually receives the communication. If they do not, then it’s just shouting at thin air. They’ll be wasting their own time, while you’ll be wholly oblivious to it. The most block-worthy of people I can think of is the notorious spammer and threat-maker “David Mabus”. Do I appreciate the need to block his output from view? Yes. Do I care whether or not he can read my feed? No. Why would I?
1) An objection I’m seeing on Twitter is that slowing down a blocked person desperate to see your tweets for nefarious reasons, is better than not slowing them down. Of course that’s right, but my point is that as this is such a small deterrent (and I’ve outlined just how easy it was to get around it) that it is outweighed by the negative effects of two-way blocking I’ve noted. And slowing these people down only applies to the phenomenon of taking a tweet off Twitter to blog about it (or something similar). As far as the experience confined to Twitter itself is concerned, how ‘slow’ they are surely doesn’t matter as the block makes them invisible. I see no difference in my experience between someone I can’t see replying to my tweets promptly and them replying to my tweets a few minutes or hours later.
2) They’ve reverted the changes. Doesn’t really affect me, and it’s clear that Twitter still doesn’t actually agree that the old system is better. Still, at least those who enjoy blocking people all day out of vindictiveness can go back to their favourite sport.