Changes to Twitter’s block behavior – and a workaround

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:

24 thoughts on “Changes to Twitter’s block behavior – and a workaround

  1. Hello, We’ve been doing experiments and found that going protected automatically makes anyone who’s been blocked unfollow you. Removing protection from your account won’t make them follow you back. They can still follow you after you unprotect though.

    This way, if you remember to go protected and remove protection before any twitter sesion, it can minimize the harm of this horrendous twitter update.

  2. Making protected – blocking – and also coming back is not necessary. Just going protected and back drops them off if you have them blocked already. Otherwise unblocking and then reblocking has the same effect but only works individually, whereas going protected and back will knock any and all blocked users off.

  3. Honest question here. Why is it important to force an unfollow for someone with a public account? I mean, you don’t even need to create a new account, your tweets are literally on Google – and you can log out of Twitter to see the tweets of people who blocked you, or use another browser.

    I’m asking because the reasoning of the Twitter devs made sense to me, if people can’t tell you’ve blocked them, they won’t retaliate. And on the other hand, if they do tell, and they’re harassers, they *will* make an effort to follow you anyway (and may do worse things too).

    But of course, I may be missing something. I’ve never been harassed, for one. So I could be misinterpreting this entirely.

      1. Harassers getting their friends to pile on is definitely part of it; the other as I explained above is people bothering people I retweet, and finally there’s the fact that it /does/ make a good percentage of folks go away.

      2. So in your experience, harassers are basically lazy?

        If so, then it’s not a false security measure – it makes perfect sense to make it more difficult for harassers to do their things, as some of them will be discouraged.

        Thanks for taking the trouble of explaining this, by the way! :)

      3. Hit maximum nesting, replying to your next post: I’m no fan of false senses of security, but there’s nothing false about a measure which does, for really real, deter some harassers. Which the old implementation did, in my experience.

      4. There’s another aspect too: most twitter harassers are not so obsessed with their targets that they’ll follow them everywhere waiting for them to say something they don’t like. Instead, they believe that they’re the “real” victims and that the target has done something to offend them and that’s the only reason why they’re acting the way they are

        However, this changes if they can *see* the target with no effort — once the target posts, they get angry and are more likely to work around barriers.

        Therefore, with the changes as they are they are likely to keep following a target and then switch to a dummy account to do the actual harassing, and since accounts are easy to make and it’s hard to block them all, the block function might as well not be there at all.

        The end result will inevitably be more harassment.

  4. FWIW, Google+’s current block behaviour is in line with what you’d expect for the word: you can’t see anything they’ve posted, nor any of your own interactions with them. I got in a G+ comment fight a couple of months back, and was briefly confused when my alert list suddenly didn’t include that conversation anymore. Then I laughed to myself, because I realised what had happened, and went on with my day.

    Guy’s since unblocked me; I appreciate his insights on a good chunk of what he posts, so it’s nice to get it in my feed again.

  5. Though they’ve undone it (for now), I still want to add this:

    Essentially, a ‘block’ working like this means that harassment victims must work harder to protect themselves than harassers must work to harass.

    That is backward. With that system, when you block someone, you’re essentially blocking yourself from them, not the other way around (the way this kind of control should function).

    You can’t protect yourself by putting on a blindfold.

    1. When I block someone from my public account, I want to not see their posts, and for them to not be able to see mine without at least going to some effort such as signing out or switching accounts.

      I am not looking for security through obscurity, I am advocating for a feature which does – effectively in my experience – drive away low-effort jerks.

      1. Yeah, that was my point. The new (and gone for now) block behavior only hid blockees’ activity from the blocker. It was downgraded to merely a mute function. It would allow hassle-free business as usual for the jerks and I’d never know (unless someone I RT or associate with got on my wacko’s radar). Basically, everything you said, too.

        One thing I wish Twitter could/would do is IP blocking. When someone is a serial suspendee and new account creator, Twitter could block their IP address. There are rare instances this wouldn’t be feasible (the old “but someone else in the household isn’t a jerk” argument) and if someone wanted to go to the trouble, they can get a new IP address (or wait for a new one from their ISP which typically happens every few weeks), but surprisingly, most people don’t actually know this. Of course, ISPs recycle IP addresses so eventually those jerks would be able to create new accounts anyway (if they bother to try again in the future) and occasionally someone new might get a blacklisted IP. If they hit an IP block, they’d land on a page asking for their e-mail address which would be vetted against a blacklist. Most people like their vanity addresses and e-mail providers enough to not completely change them. So for instance, if dragonjerk@poop.frt is blacklisted and dragonjerk123@poop.frt is trying to create an account (or already has a backup account), it’s likely they’re the same person. If it’s completely different, like butterflykiss@sunshine.fun, it’s likely a new person; if it’s associated with an established Twitter account that’s not suspended, then the IP is taken off the blacklist. Of course, if Twitter did something like this, they should not outline it in their blog. This would still support that ‘public’ image Twitter is trying to promote, but remove some of that ‘wild west’ harassment is a-okay image they also seem to not mind.

        I hope all this makes sense. I’ve been thinking about it for over a year since the first time a blocked harasser started creating multiple accounts just to bombard me and my followers (as well as several other people and their followers) with threats. Hitting an IP wall would at least slow her down.

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