In Defence Of Blocking People On Twitter

Image: Kotaku

Due to the way Twitter works, blocking people is the only way to guarantee that you won't see tweets from someone you don't like. Everyone should do it more. Twitter's safety measures are notoriously lacklustre, but if someone's in your mentions when you don't want them to be, you have a couple of immediate options: you can either mute or block them.

Muting prevents you from seeing other people's tweets when they tweet at you, whereas blocking is seen as a more drastic measure, where people can't engage with your account at all. I don't agree that it's drastic.

The problem with muting is, while it stops you from seeing a particular user's tweets, it does nothing to stop them from tweeting at you. You might check on the replies to a particular tweet and find that someone has been engaging in an aggressive argument with someone you've muted, continuing to clog your mentions even if you thought you had solved the problem.

It also does nothing if someone is combing through your tweets looking for things to show their followers, to get them to also tweet at you. What started as a small problem originating with one user can then turn into a much larger problem, coming from a mob.

The other issue is that a mute doesn't stop you from seeing tweets from an annoying account. When everyone was falling over their asses about Da Share Zone, a satirical Twitter account that posts messages about anxiety or every day life experiences over bizarre images of skeletons or dragons, I wasn't as into it.

I tried muting the account, but other people's retweets were still clogging up my feed. Rather than yell at my friends for enjoying something they enjoyed, I blocked Da Share Zone. Nothing against that account, I just didn't want to see it, and I prefer not get annoyed at posts online if I'm able.

Blocking is also seen as cowardly, and that is a downside that I can sort of understand. It feels like you're letting someone else win: they got to you, so in the game of "who cares the least," you're the loser. The thing about that, though, is that when someone wins a game, the game is over.

Even some of the more persistent angry people who show up in my mentions, the kind who take a screenshot of the block they've received to tweet something like "I guess I touched a nerve," lose interest once there's a stumbling block for further engaging with me.

Anger over being blocked isn't really about losing access to what someone thinks. Let's face it, it's hilariously easy to continue to read people's tweets once you've been blocked. Open an incognito browser and head to their page — you're done. What seems to bother people about blocks isn't that they stop blocked people from reading what a person has to say, but that they can no longer tweet at the person who blocked them. It's about an entitlement to a person's time.

The block, and only the finality of the block, is a reminder of this important truth: no one, ever, in any circumstance, is obligated to engage with you. What do you think is going to happen if you tweet something aggressive, hostile, or outright mean to a stranger?

That they're going to suddenly devote a portion of their busy day to a person who wants to yell at them? Even if you had a very good point, and the block felt unwarranted, it still tells you a lot about the person you were talking to. Now you know that they refuse to hear you.

A common criticism that I hear about people who are prone to hit the block button (such as me) is that they're encasing themselves in an echo chamber. This baffles me. It's not as if Twitter is the only form of outside communication available. Also, how would this supposed "echo chamber" even be possible to create in my day-to-day life? Ultimately, I see it as an act of kindness to myself to not read things that make me angry.

Sometimes, when I block people, I feel like I'm doing them an act of charity. You appear to not like my tweets. Now you can no longer read them. Fly, my child, and be free.

Being blocked is neither a badge of honour nor a grave offence. It's just something people do to make their online experience a little more pleasant. It doesn't stop you from reading people's articles, sending them emails, or even publicly disagreeing with things they have to say. In fact, offering a counterpoint to someone that isn't directed at them specifically, without the expectation that they respond to you, is a perfectly fine way to engage in the so-called marketplace of ideas.

You don't always have to block people. But for the person who is unreasonably angry, the person who is trying to make you defend an argument you're not making, the drive-by troll who wants to "trigger" people or just someone you plain old don't like, blocking is sometimes the best option. Go ahead and block them. You're doing yourself, and them, a favour.


Comments

    Why do you need to defend it? Blocking people is completely acceptable. The only people who are going to say otherwise are trolls.

      Blocking harassment is totally fine. But blocking dissent is intellectual incompetence.

      Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and hearing opposing opinions, even those that are deemed deeply flawed and hateful, can only serve to strengthen your own. You cannot fight an enemy you do not know, and the extreme left's list of enemies grows longer every day. Let's not pretend the majority of people who block others on twitter aren't doing so for ideological reasons. They have an agenda, and they want that agenda to prevail. It never will by blocking your ears every time it's the other side's time to speak.

      If you're going about your day and never saying anything partisan or incendiary in a public way, you absolutely deserve to use the platform without being challenged. But so many users of twitter that smash the block button are using the platform to propagate some very divisive and potentially dangerous ideas. This is largely an extreme left vs extreme right battle, but these are the people who need to hear a different point of view more than anyone.

      Every article I see about twitter talks about its problems from a painfully one-sided perspective. When you block someone on twitter, you aren't removing the toxicity, you're only adding to it.

        Conversely - people can block whoever they want. They can’t claim to be open to discourse or alternative ideas if they block anyone who disagrees with them and will be open to ridicule, but if they want to block people, let them. I’m less worried about people blocking others than I am people attempting to have entire viewpoints silenced.

          I'm open to discourse and alternative ideas. What I'm not open to is Twitter discourse and Twitter's alternative ideas. Those turd fires have proven time and time again that they belong on the block list. Does cramming that stuff into Tweets and spitting it at people accomplish anything? All I've seen Twitter accomplish on that front is compress ideas into easily dismissible Tweets that make both sides feel fantastic about not listening to each other.

        When you block someone on twitter, you aren't removing the toxicity, you're only adding to it.

        Please. There are plenty of places people can choose to have in-depth conversations about politics or ethics or anything else, nobody is obliged to do it on a platform as plainly unsuited for it as Twitter. Blocking people doesn't add to toxicity, being a dickhead does. The two are correlative at best (and realistically, in numbers far too low to draw any kind of conclusion), not causative.

        Twitter is global and unfiltered. It allows anyone anywhere in the world to message anyone else anywhere in the world without any prior association, without mutual consent or agreement to have a conversation, often without even being in reply to something. Combined with anonymity, that's as clear a recipe for trouble as exists on the internet.

        Given the platform itself prefers a hands-off approach, the tools it places in the hands of its users are designed to be used. Blocking someone on Twitter is the equivalent of walking away from the table. That person can continue talking to anyone else at the table if they want, but they can't keep talking to you. There's nothing wrong with that at all.

          Usually I like what you have to say Zombie but this time I can see both sides.
          By all means block away that's fine! But I think often people will block if something doesn't agree with their immediate view point even if no one is being hostile. That creates an echo chamber for sure. Especially for young "journos" who basically predominantly live in Twitter.

            I'm not suggesting people don't do that. Twitter has something like 400 million monthly active users, of course some are going to be the fingers-in-ears type. But I think what's important is Twitter isn't a debate platform. If it were and people were skipping out on debates then there'd be some merit to it being a problem. But it's not a debate platform, it's an everything platform.

            If you approached a hundred random people on the street, asked them what their stance on any given political topic was, then insisted they debate you on that topic, I don't think you'd be surprised to find most people aren't going to want to get into anything more than a minute or two. Ultimately, people are on Twitter for a lot of different reasons, whether it's to engage in debate, or to stay in touch with family or fans or customers, or keep up on news like following NASA or Reuters.

            It's not reasonable to think that just because they have an account and/or might have tweeted something means they're up for a debate or want to hear what a random stranger thinks. Of course you're within your right to respond to them, call them out if you like, but the expectation that they have to engage with your response at all isn't reasonable, I think.

            And that's the core of it. If someone doesn't want to engage, that's their right. You can't force someone into a debate; it's unproductive (and perhaps unethical) to try, and it's not going to have any kind of beneficial rational outcome even if they capitulate to stop you bugging them. And really, if people want to isolate themselves in an echo chamber, that's their right too. Sure, people like us don't think that's a good idea, but it's their choice to make, not ours. They're responsible for any actions they take as a result.

            In this context, blocking is like a screwdriver. A person can use it to build a clubhouse of only people who agree with them, but you'd hardly say the tool is to blame, and you wouldn't demand that they had any obligation to let others in if they didn't want to, even if you thought what they were doing was stupid.

          We're on the same page with a lot of what you said, but we're talking about different users I think.

          There are plenty of places people can choose to have in-depth conversations about politics or ethics or anything else, nobody is obliged to do it on a platform as plainly unsuited for it as Twitter.

          The problem is the blockers are often people who are trying to push messages about politics. I would say there are only a handful of main reasons why people experience "toxicity" on twitter and one of the big ones is politics. It's fine to say "I don't want to have a debate about politics or ethics here", but that's not what's happening. Too many people want to have a captive and mute audience for their own, unchallenged political views, and are completely unwilling to engage with any sort of appraisal of those views that isn't toothless and sycophantic.

          Like I said, if you're going about your own business, and not making specious claims about issues that affect people everywhere, you can opt out of the discourse. But if you've got something to say, then you've also got something to hear. People can say "no I don't" and I suppose that's their decision, but I don't want to see those same people throwing tantrums when they don't get their way because the people who actually want results were busy having the real conversations without them.

          Twitter is a capital S social media platform. More than say, Youtube, platforms like Twitter and Facebook are built around users interacting with each other. I would argue that of all the platforms that are ill-suited to political discourse, there are plenty that rank higher (or is it lower?) than Twitter.

            but I don't want to see those same people throwing tantrums when they don't get their way

            Well, if they blocked you then you won't be able to see them at all, so problem solved! :D

            More seriously, I suppose my position still stands, and boils down to: blocking is a tool. It can be used for good or bad but it's just a tool. It doesn't add to toxicity the same way a car doesn't add to the road death toll. Individual people are responsible for that, and they'd probably find a way to be a problem whether they had the tool available to them or not.

            I'd wager the majority of blocks on Twitter are just normal people avoiding things that stress them out. Can't really fault people (or the block tool itself) for that.

    Blocking someone for constantly annoying or harassing you, especially when you tell them to stop, is perfectly fine.

    You know what's not fine? Signing up to a stupid block list to block a large collection of people you have never interacted with because someone else deemed them offensive. Especially when that block list is made by a TERF.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now