Tone-deaf Twitter

There are some serious problems with how Twitter handles blocking — in particular, if I block some obnoxious twit, but they post to a hashtag I follow (a conference hashtag, for instance), their messages are still displayed. This is the major reason why the BlockBot emerged — that automated widget that simply refuses to display tweets from a collection of known harassers, so that you can follow it instead of the hashtag — because Twitter won’t do the job.

Now, finally, Twitter gets around to changing the blocking behavior …and makes it worse. It used to be blocking someone also made them unfollow you, which made it very slightly harder for the harassers to stalk you. Apparently, inconveniencing assholes was intolerable to Twitter, so they’ve now changed it so blocking only mutes them, but still allows them to easily follow your every word, flag your tweets, and echo them to their clinging flock of fellow harassers. The harassers are now simply made invisible to the people they want to harass.

Imagine if the police were this helpful, and if you complained about someone and asked for protection, their response would be to magically make them invisible for you.

Why did they do this? I have no idea, except that there must be some assholes on the Twitter staff, which should surprise no one.

It’s probably futile, but there’s a petition asking them to stop making life easier for the jerks. I have no confidence they’ll listen or care, but go ahead, ask Twitter nicely.

Otherwise…hey, world, did you know there’s an available niche for a twitter-like service that also offers reasonable blocking and a little protection for users, and that doesn’t pander to misogynistic scumbags? They really could use some competition.

I found someone who likes the new policy (warning: links to creep pretending to masturbate…and just the description is enough, don’t you think?) That’s what we’re dealing with. That’s who Twitter’s policy panders to.

Twitter has reversed their changes. They’ve got a rather weird explanation for the earlier change, though.

In reverting this change to the block function, users will once again be able to tell that they’ve been blocked. We believe this is not ideal, largely due to the retaliation against blocking users by blocked users (and sometimes their friends) that often occurs. Some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse. Moving forward, we will continue to explore features designed to protect users from abuse and prevent retaliation.

WTF? So I was supposed to worry that harassers I block might retaliate by…what? More online harassment? I assure you, they were going to do that anyway.


  1. Eridius says

    There already is a twitter-like service that offers reasonable blocking and doesn’t pander to misogynistic scumbags. It’s also better than Twitter in a lot of other ways (developer-friendly, so the clients are much better, they host your images/photos directly and give you complete control over them so you can delete them easily, and more). It’s called App.Net, and can be found at (surprise!) The only downside, if you want to call it that, is it’s actually a paid service, with a free tier of functionality that imposes limits (e.g. cap on how many people you can follow, much smaller amount of hosted file storage). But the fact that it’s a paid service means that the users are actually the customers, not the product (unlike Twitter, where the customers are advertisers).

    All in all, it’s a very user-centric service, that I would highly recommend over Twitter to anyone who is willing to make the jump.

  2. skepticalpete says

    I’ll second the recommendation of App.Net. It has a lot of advantages, including longer posts and that it’s actually a platform for all kinds of interesting uses beyond a simple Twitter clone, and the population seems more interested in civilized conversation—even about charged topics, amazingly.

    I’m not the most social user of social networks (more of a lurker, as I am here) but I can definitely appreciate the improved signal to noise ratio over there. Definitely worth paying for.

  3. says

    Twitter’s main competition is facebook. If facebook is going to allow rape culture and block criticism of it, then twitter has to have some way of competing with that and attract users.

  4. says

    Slight residual bug after the u-turn, anyone that you were blocking that followed you while it was allowed is still following you. I’m following a certain @Tweep who blocked me for “just disagreeing” (/jk!) … After the change I am still following the account. So you may have some ppl following your account that you don’t want. Flick to protected and back again, should throw them off, or at least it did before they reverted the change!

  5. says

    Regarding Twitter’s ridiculous attitude to blocking:

    The Block Bot’s main account (@The_Block_Bot), which gives notice of new additions, has been blocked for “targeted abuse”. (That said, the bot itself, and the despammed hashtag feeds are still working properly.)

    Guess who the major complainants have been, that it the people who were supposedly the victims of this “targeted abuse”?

    1. “Lazy Savant”, the guy who publically fantasized about murdering Stephanie Zvan, dismembering her, and wearing her skin as a suit.

    2. Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists, the people who relentlessly stalk transwomen on Twitter, deliberately misgendering them, falsely accusing them of rape, calling them mentally ill, and jeering at their stories of being publicly assaulted.

    Disturbingly, the latter group was boasting about having a friend who works for Twitter, and they appeared to know about the outcome of the suspension before we did. In other words, it is likely that Twitter employees are colluding with harassers, and banning people who complain.

  6. carlie says

    That was such a debacle. Has no company ever thought that having an open comment period BEFORE instituting new changes might be a good idea?!

  7. dnebdal says

    I do understand their argument in the reversal, though: If you’ve got some family/acquaintance/colleague that annoys you, there’s a difference between “let me not see their posts” and “stop all contact between us in a way they’ll notice”.

  8. Ollie Gervais says

    I’m curious as to how PZ came to see the tweet from Lazy Savant. I followed this drama on twitter and I believe PZ has Mr. Savant blocked.

    The only way you could have seen his tweet is if you’d visited his profile. But why bother, if you’ve already opted not to view his tweets?

    There is an inconsistency to your arguments here. The onus is on the blocker not to return.

    The new rules were problematic, only because they alerted the user that a blockee was retweeting or favouriting them. The ability to see the tweets of people who have blocked you has always existed, as blocking doesn’t hide your tweets – only their’s. People could always view, and link to, the tweets of somebody who had blocked them.

    Taking that into account, I understand that you may have nipped over to Lazy’s profile after he retweeted you, and you were alerted, but still, why? You still had the option not to. I extend this reasoning to other users who were complaining.

    I am happy the changes did not stay, if they were upsetting people, but there was a lot of hyperbole, including this blog post.

    Like I say, I can see the problem with the alerts showing up. But that’s all.

    P.S. – Regarding, ElevatorGATE has been using that for months.

  9. Bicarbonate says

    Hyperdeath @8

    I learned about the existence of Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists here on FtB. It makes no sense to me. I looked around on the internet and couldn’t find much. Have you got any links to Trans Exclusive Redial Feminist sites, blogs, whatever so I can go and see what this stuff is?

  10. carlie says

    I’ll repeat what I wrote on twitter, for the sake of Ollie and others wondering the same:

    For clarity, some reasons that the twitter nonblock was bad, even though yes, tweets are public and they could view while logged out:

    1. It makes it harder to stalk someone when they have to log out of their own twitter account to view them.
    2. They could have RT’d all of someone’s tweets to their own followers, feeding group harassment.
    3. They would not get the clear message that the person found their attention unwanted.
    4. Their name would still show up in mentions on rt/reply, intruding on the other person’s space.

  11. Ollie Gervais says

    Hi there Carlie, #13

    Thank you for the shout. I understand those things, myself. If we were to debate the finer points, we could say that Twitter could have kept the changes, but made it so the interactions (“Retweeted your tweet” etc.) were hidden too. However, like I say, I am happy they changed it back. I don’t think it was a useful change for anybody.

    Just to clarify a couple points, though:

    1. You don’t have to log out to view tweets. Some people have told me that the iPhone client will hide timelines like this, but the web client, Android client and pretty much every other client I know of does not have this limitation. The web client did function like this at one time, but that changed quite a while ago.

    2. A person, equally, could link multiple tweets using twitter permalinks. Retweeting only saves the person copying and pasting a link.

    I agree with 3 & 4.