User Backlash Forces Twitter to Restore Block Feature

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Thursday Twitter made a change to its blocking policy, which turned the blocking feature into more of a mute. Users reacted immediately with petitions, pleas to Twitter staff and they trended #RestoreTheBlock in the US. Less than 12 hours after the story broke, Twitter restored the block feature to its former operation. Now the question is what’s the best strategy going forward?

The changes were slight: if you blocked someone, they would still be able to see your activity and interact with it, and they wouldn’t know they had been blocked. In theory, this change would end the retaliatory behaviour exhibited by some trolls and abusers in response to being blocked. And hopefully the hostilities wouldn’t escalate.

Twitter’s arguments make sense, as some users have increased hostilities towards their targets after being blocked. If your account is public, there’s nothing to stop an abuser from creating a second account, which they can use to circumvent the block you placed on them. In fact, being blocked could make the abuser feel justified in escalating. So, what they don’t know won’t hurt you?

‘Ignore the bully’ is very tempting advice, especially on the part of Twitter, which wishes to remain hands-off. On a site where death and rape threats aren’t just threats, but are serious enough to warrant prosecution, that advice doesn’t really hold water.

Twitter’s reacted very swiftly to user demands, and when explaining its philosophy on the topic, cited its interest in keeping Twitter a safer space for expression.

“We’ve built Twitter to help you create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. That vision must coexist with keeping users safe on the platform,” the blog post says. The issue doesn’t have a simple solution and even though the block function is helpful, Twitter would do well to provide more tools for users.

Individual tweets can be reported for abuse, you can send emails to Twitter about dangerous or illegal content, and you can block. Is that enough to protect users? Twitter is caught between the rock of safeguarding users, and the hard place of free speech.

If Twitter starts policing what can and can’t be said – aside from illegal activity – the platform could lose a lot of its open, spontaneous edge. But failure to deal with the problem could undermine Twitter’s long term success.

 Image credit:  rossbreadmore

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