The people at Twitter are fucking morons (updated)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in ... the Hell?. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The people at Twitter are fucking morons (updated)

  1. lockwooddewitt says:

    I have a very persistent stalker, who I want nothing whatsoever to do with. She will now be able to hang on my every word, just as she desires. Thanks, Twitter.

  2. They aren’t morons, they don’t want to end up like FB, with stocks plummeting because everyone blocks advertisers. They just want their money like any other company providing a service. Since regular users don’t pay them anything, they don’t get features that block off profits.

  3. Silver Fox says:

    Can you still go protected for a short time, block, then go unprotected to get rid of someone? I know that isn’t a great solution for a large number of people, and that they can still find you at some point — just wondering if that is still an option.

  4. John McKay says:

    Harasser is too gentle of a word. They are stalkers and, unlike physical stalkers, online stalkers travel in packs.

  5. Silver Fox says:

    Wow! That reversal was fast! Question above moot.

  6. Greg Laden says:

    Blocking never worked well anyway. I suggest using a script like The Zapper. Doesn’t keep the harassers from seeing you but it keeps you from seeing them better than blocking does.

  7. Phil says:

    Setting aside “private” Twitter accounts, which are there own thing: The Twitter feed is public. It’s archived at the U.S. Library of Congress.

    The idea that people using Twitter for microblogging can control who gets to see their tweets is nearly as absurd as expecting to be able to “block” someone from reading your RSS feed, or that people added to one’s Usenet kill file will be prevented from reading their posts.

    Twitter should have simply called this feature of their client applications “ignore” instead of “block.”

    • It’s not just about making tweets “private,” as I tried to make clear in my post: it’s about giving stalkers simple and direct access to one’s twitter account. The traditional block makes it less convenient for stalkers & harassers to inject themselves directly in one’s conversations. The new block made it trivial.

      • Phil says:

        Block or no block, nobody has access to your account but you unless you authorize it. Everyone, however, has access to the words you broadcast using that account. Anyone can choose to ignore your words in particular, and anyone can choose to watch all the words broadcast there and notice when you, in particular, say something there. You give *the world* simple and direct access to your words by broadcasting them on Twitter.

        Try mentally mapping blogging and an RSS feed to tweeting, subscribing to a blog to following on Twitter, and pingbacks as @ replies. How should a “block” be implemented? The only way we can make blocking as you seem to desire work is to cede control of our microblogging communications to an intermediary. That many of us currently cede such control to Twitter is a flaw in the system. It’s one that we put up with because Twitter was the first to achieve critical mass. Similar centralized control would have significantly stymied the development of communications methods like Internet e-mal, Usenet news, and RSS.

        I don’t want Twitter or anyone else to control who gets to listen to whose public communications. Tweets are not an appropriate method for private or semi-private communication.

      • “The only way we can make blocking as you seem to desire work is to cede control of our microblogging communications to an intermediary.”

        Um, this post was about the block feature being returned to the exact way it worked previously. You seem to be caught in the fallacy of assuming that somehow I demanded perfect protection for users or that such perfect protection is even possible. In the post, I explicitly stated that this isn’t.

        There is a WORLD of difference, however, in the convenience of the new and old block mechanisms in terms of the ease of disruption. That’s the whole point. The very fact that people were upset by being blocked in the old system — as Twitter used as its ENTIRE justification for the new system — indicates that it had an effect.

        In short: the “new” block gave more freedom and power to abusers and harassers, and they were delighted by it, as I can attest to by personal experience on twitter. This in turn was taking away freedom and power from the abused. Why would you support that?

  8. Ex Twat member says:

    Twitter just banned my account because I didn’t have a good word to say about Google and gave me a warning so I did what every good citizen should do and warned other members not to use the ‘G’ word in vain and then only did re-tweets on people that were saying what I wanted to say.

    Well the next thing you know is my account got a total ban.

    Free speech and Twitter are a thing of the past and they now seem to be taking contributions, bribes or whatever you want to call it to silence tweets for fee paying corporations.

    So yes I agree with the authors comments but at least I know that half the time, my web-bots are talking to themselves 😉

  9. Bob Wernet says:

    Don’t tweet , don’t FB , go out of your house and get a fucking life !!! You fucking twats…there’s a whole wide world out there , go out and find it for yourself , don’t tell anybody , just absorb it yourself , you just may well find that you feel so much better knowing that you saw something that made you smile, made you feel alive , without having to brag about it , you don’t have to tell the world , just see it for yourself !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s