Culture

Here’s Why You’re Blocked on Twitter: No Stranger Is Entitled to My Time or Timeline

A debate over the ethics of blocking heats up—but nobody needs an excuse.

Don’t flatter yourselves, random Twitter trolls — and, for that matter, assorted irritating people. We’re not scared of you. We’re not trying to oppress you. We just honestly don’t want to be bothered.

The sad clowns who make up the lowest rung of Internet community have been feeling extra slighted lately. Just last month,  Fortune asked, “When do Twitter block lists start infringing on free speech?” Though writer Mathew Ingram posed some reasonable ethical questions about the implied shame cycle of shared block list tools like BlockTogether, I’m still going to go with: The answer to that is never. And when the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s Jillian York told Fortune, “It’s one thing if a block list is public, so it’s transparent, but there are private block lists as well and that’s a little disturbing. I’ve already seen a couple of journalists using them to block people who aren’t even really harassing,” the implication that blocking is only reserved for when people are “really harassing” raised a different question. Is blocking really always the nuclear option?

For plenty of us, that’s not how we think of or use the tool. It’s a means of weeding out not just the abusive but the dumb, the the unpleasant, the negative. On Twitter this weekend, actress Anushka Sharma told her five million followers that she’s currently “Trying to keep my Twitter positive (well as positive as possible ) so will BLOCK people who rant nonsense with no sense of responsibility.” And the timing couldn’t have been better, just as, the hashtag #BadExcusesForBlockingSomeonesuddenly and briefly became a thing, as if anyone on social media needs to justify their reasons for using one its tools.

A common refrain among the anti-block crowd is that blocking is somehow cowardly. But as writer Tauriq Moosa observed, “It’s your Twitter. Block whoever the f__k you like. Start with me…. #BadExcusesForBlockingSomeone is a good way to find people to block, who think they’re entitled to your time & attention.” It was a sentiment reflected just a few days earlier when scientist and science writer Katie Mack stated, “People who use “SJW” as an insult: insta-block…. Sometimes I block to avoid the tedium of jerks who hate me. If that’s the definition of being in an echo chamber I guess I’m cool with it.”

I get that if somehow you wind up on a widely shared block list and feel it’s unjustified, that’s got to feel unfair and bad for your reputation. I get that blocking, because the person blocked knows he or she is blocked, is a more forceful statement than simply muting. It’s an act that says, you are not entitled to read my social media conversation and you are welcome to know that.

I also get — because I live it every day — that there are plenty of genuinely loathsome people out there who spend their yelling at strangers on the Internet, that I’m not interested in their creative output, and that ignoring them is my privilege and pleasure. I block people not just because they’re abusive — although a whole lot are — but because they’re dull, annoying,  just won’t stop trying to pick a fight, or I find their worldview repellent. There’s no “bad excuse” for blocking someone. It’s not a violation of their right to be aggressive, gross or plain repetitive and uninteresting. It’s an expression of my right to not put up with nonsense. Because life, like a Twitter character limit, is just too short. And that’s a good enough reason.

 

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.