Update below: original block has been restored — I think.
This is a bit out of the norm from my usual posts, but this has really pissed me off and I need to rant about it. Also, I need to explain the problem for people who don’t “get it.”
Twitter is basically burning down at the moment thanks to a new policy at the social media site regarding “blocking.” For those unfamiliar: Twitter is a very public system where, typically, you “follow” those people whose thoughts interest you and you in turn are followed by those who are interested by your work. Also, you can generally see what anyone is saying about you in your “mentions.”
Of course, any social media site is subject to abuse and harassers, so Twitter has had, since the very beginning, a “block” button, allowing you to ban selected users. Blocking did the following:
- A person could no longer follow you on Twitter from the blocked account.
- A person could not “retweet” (share) your tweets, or “favorite” (bookmark) them.
- A person could not, therefore, directly see your tweets on their account timeline.
- Notified the person that they had, in fact, been blocked.
The most important effect of these actions was to remove the harasser from the conversation. They could no longer directly reply to my tweets, and therefore could not directly jump into any conversation I was participating in.
This was always an imperfect solution. A public Twitter account can be viewed freely on the internet, and so the tweets are still available to a harasser. However, they cannot directly insert themselves into the conversation, because their logged-in account has no access. Also, they could still of course see other tweets about the blocker. In other words, it becomes relatively annoying for a harasser to effectively interact with the blocker.
Now, Twitter has decided to neuter the block function. Essentially, it has become a “mute” button: the blocker will no longer see anything the harasser says, but the harasser still has complete and unmodified access to the blocker’s account. So: if a blocker is having a conversation with someone, the harasser will be able to read everything, and reply to everything. In fact, they won’t even be told they’ve been blocked any more. My analogy: the new block function is like putting on a blindfold to protect yourself from Michael Myers from the “Halloween” movie.
Why does this matter? Let’s look at the number of problems I’ve already imagined with the new policy, and I’ve only had about 2 hours to think about it:
- Psychology. The new block policy completely strips the Twitter user of power, and in essence gives more to the harasser/stalker. In the old system, there was at least some psychological benefit to being able to take definite action; now, the block button acts as an “ignore it and hope it goes away” response. For people in vulnerable groups who are regularly bullied, this makes Twitter a much less safe place. This matters to people. A lot.
- Harassment strategy 1. In the new Twitter block system, a harasser can still see and respond to any tweets that the blocker makes. This means that the harasser can mount a continual campaign of harassment against the followers of the blocker. In the old system, if I have 3500 followers, I can perform a single block to cripple that person’s conversation ability. In the new system, all 3500 followers would also have to block. For a dedicated harasser who opens multiple accounts, he could effectively scare away other users from interacting with the blocker.
- Harassment strategy 2. With the ability to retweet the blocker’s tweets, a harasser with a large following could continually share the victim’s tweets to send hordes of troll assistants to do the harassment via proxy.
“But but but,” the very serious person says, “None of this was prevented by the old block system!” Well, no shit. But the old system made it much less convenient to do so. We can’t completely prevent murders, either, but we try and make it as inconvenient as possible to do so. And rules and barriers make a difference in most cases. Removing barriers emboldens harassers.
So: why would Twitter do such a thing? The most obvious answer is “money”: they want to prevent people from shielding themselves completely from advertisers. If an advertiser doesn’t know it’s blocked, it can’t complain that it can’t reach the Twitter audience! Twitter itself officially has a more ridiculous answer:
TechCrunch spoke to Twitter about the changes, and the company says that the change, which does not notify or alert the person you’ve blocked in any way, was done to prevent a scenario of retaliation. The company said that they had seen situations where users, once they discovered that they had been blocked — because they could no longer view tweets or interact with tweets — would find other ways to attack or harass the blocker or even be spurred to greater abuse.
Did you get that? Harassers got angry when blocked, so they got rid of the blocking. As my Twitter friend @DCPlod noted,
Twitter’s rationale for gutting the block function is that of a wife-beater. I’m not exaggerating.
That sounds about right: harassers and stalkers get mad when you block them, so we won’t let you do it! It’s your fault if they get even angrier at you.
Incidentally, Twitter’s argument undermines the rationale that the block changes make no difference: if harassers are getting angry about being blocked, it makes a difference.
Twitter firmly has their head up their ass on this one; hopefully they’ll change course. I might have to leave the service otherwise. I typically am not harassed on Twitter, but I’m not going to support a service that allows others to do so.
Update: Twitter has quickly reversed their policy and restored the original block functionality. Learned the news via Little Green Footballs; the official statement is here. Thanks to Twitter for taking action on this so quickly, though it is still unclear if there is any restriction on the ability of people to respond to a blocker’s tweets or RT them. Tentative apologies to Twitter for the moron thing.