The Twitter Block Fail Whale

FailWhaleIf you’ve been on Twitter the last couple of days you’ll have noticed a major shitstorm over Twitter’s ill-considered change to the way blocking worked.

Previously the block function not only prevented you from seeing the posts from people you’d blocked, but it also prevented them from following you or seeing your own tweets. The change reduced this to a mere “mute” functions; all it did was to mute them from your own timeline and interactions tabs, without preventing them from following or even from retweeting you.

All credit to Twitter for rolling back the change within the space of a few hours in response to the storm of anger from users, but you have to wonder what they were thinking when they implemented it in the first place. Something tells me that nobody involved in the decision ever consulted anyone with first-hand experience of online harassment or stalking.

Yes, I am aware that blocking was never 100% effective, since your public posts are still visible to a logged-out user if they go to your profile. But there’s a big difference between @Dickhead being able to see your profile by logging out, and @Dickhead being able to follow you and retweet your posts to his dickhead friends. It’s akin to saying there’s no point locking your door because a burglar can always break the window.

And I’m also aware that Twitter has a serious problem with abusers and trolls, and there isn’t any optimal solution that doesn’t have potential downsides; successful moderation strategies that work on community-based sites just don’t scale to something the size of Twitter, especially it’s part of a wider ecosystem that includes other sites over which Twitter has no control. But that’s no excuse to roll out a change that actually enables the bad actors.

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