Twitter: When Should I Block?

Twitter @ToyatheGemini on blockingAbove: A very prevalent and understandable feeling among Twitter users. View @ToyatheGemini’s original Tweet on Twitter

It seems pretty straightforward, but Twitter’s Block function can provoke some complicated and difficult situations. Indeed, the details of blocking etiquette are not really universal. Blocking means different things to different people. So when, exactly, should you block another user on Twitter?…

WHAT BLOCKING DOES

I should clarify first, in case you’re newer to Twitter, what blocking does, and what it doesn’t do. Blocking stops an account (as opposed to a person) from being able to officially follow you or message you on Twitter. The account you’ve blocked won’t get any more of your Tweets delivered automatically to its timeline, and if the account holder tries to @mention you or @reply to you, you won’t receive any of their contact.

WHAT BLOCKING DOESN’T DO

Blocking is only an account-specific measure. It doesn’t block a user’s IP address, so if the same user sets up a new account, they can start messaging and following you again, until you block the new account. Also, blocking doesn’t stop anyone from being able to view your public Tweets. It stops an account receiving your Tweets when the account holder is logged in, but as soon as the user logs out of that account, they effectively become anonymous to the software so they can browse exactly what any other member of the public would be able to browse – including all your public Tweets. The only way you can stop an account holder from seeing your Tweets after blocking them is to Protect your account. However, even then they could feasibly make a fake account and trick you into letting them follow you again.

WILL THE PERSON I’VE BLOCKED BE TOLD I’VE BLOCKED THEM?

Twitter won’t send them any notification, but if they’ve got a real interest in you, they’ll pretty quickly find out. They can’t follow you, so if they attempt to do so, they’ll know straight away that you’ve blocked them.

CAN SOMEONE I’VE BLOCKED RETWEET ME?

Officially, no, but in practical terms, yes. They won’t be able to use Twitter’s Retweet function in relation to your tweets (unless they open a new account), but they will be able to log out, copy anything you say, paste it into a new Tweet, and pass it on to their followers, attributed to you. They shouldn’t do this, but is that going to stop them? Not always, no.

REACTIONS TO BLOCKING

So when should you Block an account on Twitter? Well, the first thing to consider is how the individual you’re blocking is going to react. Some people regard blocking very flippantly, will comfortably block many accounts in the course of a day, and don’t really care if people block them. Others see it as a personal insult serious enough to prompt the outbreak of war, and take it very badly indeed when someone blocks them.

As a rule, blocking ‘randoms’ – people you don’t know and will not be seeing face to face in the foreseeable course of your life – can be considered quite a flippant action. There are exceptions to that, though…

If you’re in the public eye or run a business, it won’t make you look particularly good if it gets around that you block anyone who disagrees with you. Indeed, even blocking heavily for abuse can damage your image if you’re not careful. People will always portray themselves as blameless. If you read the testimony of those who get banned from Google, they’ve invariably been banned “for no reason”, and not, as is usually the reality, for relentless spamming and industrial scale click fraud. Similarly, if you have a high public profile or are a business with a reputation to lose, the people you block on Twitter will not admit they were blocked for abuse and threatening behaviour – it’ll always be “for no reason”, or because you were “frightened of the truth”.

If you do have a reputation to worry about, it would at least be wise to check how many followers a user has before you block them. If they have twenty or thirty thousand people reading everything they say, chances are your blocking exploits will be public knowledge within a very short space of time, and may well go viral. Someone with 25 followers would not normally pose such a threat, but ultimately, it’s the Internet – they could be anyone, and so could each of their followers. They can also very easily take the matter to public forums, some of which will potentially reach tens of thousands of people. You always have to budget for the consequences

A little-known user like me, however, can block ‘randoms’ without much concern. The people I commonly block are those who follow me and then unfollow as soon as I follow them back. It’s really just a practical measure to ensure I don’t end up getting messed about by that same account again. I’ve also blocked and reported abusive accounts or spammers.

Twitter @DylanEdwards92 on blocking
Above: A more personal feeling, which demonstrates that Twitter is indeed a very personal space. What’s welcome for one user, is a blocking offence to another. View @DylanEdwards92’s original Tweet on Twitter

BLOCKING PEOPLE YOU KNOW

Where blocking does get more difficult is when you know the account holder and perhaps have real-life contact with them. It’s one thing blocking the accounts of people who don’t have sufficient interest in you to realise you’ve done it. It’s quite another to block someone who’s going to know almost immediately that they’ve been blocked and whose grudge could affect your everyday life. That’s (roughly) one of the reasons Twitter has cited for the introduction of the Mute function. Mute, however, is not a silent block. It’s a silent unfollow. You’ll still see @messages, @replies and DMs from people you’ve muted, and they’ll still get your Tweets delivered to their timeline. So how do you go about blocking someone who’s going to know straight away they’ve been blocked and perhaps create an issue?…

Well, I covered this to an extent in my Online Stalking article. Most people you know but still feel the need to block will be displaying unconducive behaviour, so a lot of what I said in the stalking post applies across the board. Warn them their behaviour is a problem, and that if they don’t change it you’re going to have to block them. The key is to explain why you want to block them before you do it. Even if it’s something that to them might seem quite trivial, tell them it’s a problem. You can be jocular about it – it doesn’t have to be a bitter warning. Every situation is different, and should be handled as sensitively or insensitively as necessary.

CONSEQUENCES

For those who get blocked, the typical consequence is no greater than them not being able to follow or message you. However, a high number of blocks of one account from a variety of users will trigger a flag at Twitter and prompt an assessment of whether the offending account is breaching the Terms of Service. If it is, the account will be suspended. So if you’re behaving badly enough for a lot of people to block you, the consequence could be suspension, and some suspensions are permanent.

For those doing the blocking, the consequences are much harder to predict. Twitter is only really an extension of real life, so if you upset the wrong person you could find yourself dealing with retaliation. Contrary to what some people think, you can’t get permanently wiped off Twitter just because someone takes a dislike to you and decides to organise a retaliatory mass blocking/reporting of your account. The only thing you can get suspended for is breaking Twitter’s rules, so if your behaviour is fully compliant, the future of your account should not be in danger.

But the problem is, of course, that a huge number of users do breach the ToS in one way or another, which does leave them open to suspension if enough people block and report them. There can be a fine line between legitimate criticism and abuse, and Twitter’s interpretation could depend on a number of things. It would be naïve, for instance, to assume that if you upset someone who’s paying Twitter a thick wad of notes each year in advertising fees, the site is not going to side with them in a borderline dispute. So it’s wise to take into account what sort of scope there is for people to retaliate before you start blocking with abandon.

Twitter @donilevine on blocking
Above: This admonishment draws attention to another widespread irritation on Twitter. Unfortunately, though, most of the accounts promoting fake follower ‘deals’ are themselves automated bots and any warnings will never be read. View @donilevine’s original Tweet on Twitter

HOW DO I MAKE SURE I NEVER GET BLOCKED?

If you use Twitter a lot, and over a long period, you almost inevitably will get blocked at some stage, whoever you are, and however good you feel your behaviour is. The most likely point at which the average user will get blocked is when they follow someone who just doesn’t like the look of them. Being selective with the accounts you follow will thus help a great deal here.

When following, try to stick to accounts with common interests or which at least indicate that they want to be followed by all and sundry. Some Twitter users don’t want to be followed by people they don’t know. Their accounts will usually have very low follower counts, and that should prompt you to check the situation more carefully before you follow.

There are other understandable reasons why a user might immediately block a new follower. The follower could be promoting something the account holder disagrees with and doesn’t want to be associated with. Or a teenage girl might want to block a middle aged bloke whose profile pic looks decidedly creepy. Anything that looks or seems creepy in your profile, even if it’s only meant as a joke, is highly likely to get you blocked. Some humour does not travel well through the Internet. It’s not, in any case, wise to be approaching people from age groups with whom you’re likely to have little in common, and following them out of the blue.

Fundamentally, no one knows who’s who on the Web, or what their intentions are. Some people don’t generally care who’s who, but others do, and that should always be remembered before you click the Follow button. This is why I would never mass follow on an indiscriminate basis, and would not recommend anyone else does.

CONCLUSION

Blocking is your right. You don’t have to permit anyone to message you, or follow you, and in truth, most of the people you block will accept that it was a stupid idea to follow or message you in the first place and move on. In some cases, people will object to being blocked and may get angry about it. I’d suggest reading the Online Stalking post if you find yourself being harangued by someone you’ve blocked. You shouldn’t have to explain yourself, but there could be instances when people will expect you to. The frequency of such instances will depend on who you are and how you’re using Twitter.

But in the end, whatever anyone says, blocking is only a simple privacy function on a social networking site. It doesn’t swear at anyone, or abuse them. It just asserts your right to selective privacy, and that’s how you should regard it. In blocking someone you’re not trying to start a war. You’re saying you don’t want to socialise with them on that particular site, at this particular time. It’s much like saying “no” when someone asks you to go out for a drink. It’s your social life. If you don’t want them to be part of it, they should respect that, just as they would in the ‘real world’.

Author: Bob Leggitt

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