#blockgate and the changes to Twitter’s block behavior

I posted this yesterday on my personal blog, originally titled “Changes to Twitter’s block behavior – and a workaround.” I wanted to share it with the readers of Geek Feminism as well, as I think blocking on social networks and the right to exist in public free from harassment is something near and dear to many of our hearts, and what I hear is now being called “#blockgate” / “#restoreblock” / #restoretheblock is just the latest round in a long history of such discussions. It was a living post I updated as information came in about Twitter’s blocking policy change, hence the various updates and added Tweets.

TL;DR I hate the changes to Twitter’s blocking, and you can get around them by marking your account private, blocking the person, then going back to public. This will cause them to unfollow you. I hope the powers that Tweet reconsider this change.

Update: so this happened…

Yay!

Twitter posted an update today to their blocking functionality. In my opinion, it’s a real step backwards for the usability of Twitter for anyone with a large number of followers, or facing any kind of harassment.

It used to be that when you blocked someone, it would force them to “unfollow” you, in addition to hiding them from your mentions. This is no longer the case:

Note: If your account is public, blocking a user does not prevent that user from following you, interacting with your Tweets, or receiving your updates in their timeline. If your Tweets are protected, blocking the user will cause them to unfollow you.

The obvious objection to my objection is “well your stuff is public anyway, they could just make a new account” – the thing is, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of 1) how people use blocking and 2) how harassers operate.

People use blocking to force unfollows.

I have nearly 9000 followers (which I find fairly hilarious as I mostly post fart jokes, but whatevs)(clarifying for new visitors: I actually tweet about computer security, privacy, feminism, open source, and how weird being a Canadian living in the US is – and more Bitcoin jokes than fart jokes). Something that happens pretty often is that someone will follow me and start replying to things I post or retweet in an aggressive or annoying way. I am particularly conscious of when people do this to folks I retweet – I feel like I have a responsibility to not expose people I retweet to douchebaggery on my watch, so I block people who demonstrate a pattern of being jerks. My friend Ellie made this in response to one of the times I retweeted her:

retweets

I realize that I’m directing a lot of traffic at folks when I retweet them, and I don’t want to expose them to jerks. This change prevents me from curating my followers in the same way as I curate my feed.

Harassers are easily distracted, and many just go away

Blocking, even on a public account, is surprisingly effective at dealing with low-grade harassment. Most harassers just aren’t that invested in the person they are bothering, and putting up the tiniest roadblock will make them move on to their next target. I had this conversation with a Googler shortly after G+ shipped, as its blocking behavior was at the time the same as the new Twitter behavior. I have no idea what it is now because I hate G+ and don’t use it, and I realized that this may be unintuitive to someone who hasn’t experienced harassment before – but trust me, as someone who has, it works a lot of the time. Which is great!

Update: Some who read the above argument think that it’s a “false sense of security” – there’s nothing false about effectively driving away a large percentage of drive-by harassment. I think people pretty broadly get that if you have a public feed, and block someone, that that person can just log out to read your feed – there really are a large number of users, and I say this from personal experience, who won’t bother making a new account, they will just move on. I want to keep being able to handle those users easily.

Telling users facing harassment to just make their account private punishes them, not harassers

This is just shitty and not ok, and I hope it needs no further explanation.

A Workaround

If you make your account private, then block the person, then make it public again, it emulates the old behavior and makes them unfollow you. It’s a pain, but it works. It will not prevent them from re-following you, however – so it’ll only work on the least motivated harassers.

Another Workaround

My friend shadowspar pointed out that you can still force an unfollow by marking someone as spam:

Looks like I’m going to be misusingrepurposing the spam report button more frequently :(

Update: or not:

 

One thought on “#blockgate and the changes to Twitter’s block behavior

  1. Martijn

    My initial response was also “but it gives a false sense of security!”. Now I understand it’s not about /security/: it’s not about preventing people from reading your tweets – it’s about adding a hurdle to retweet offensively. Thank you for making that point.

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