How collaborative social blocking could bring sanity to social networks


Twitter’s basic rules give individuals and groups of people asymmetrical power as long as they are persistent and awful. The company’s response on average is inadequate even to egregious reports, and its rules about what constitutes harassment restrictive in a way that diminishes victims’ ability to gain redress and find safety. Samantha Allen, a fellow at Emory University, and the recipient of waves of abuse this year when she wrote about games journalism, says, “As it’s currently built, Twitter wins during harassment campaigns and we lose. We have to accept working and socializing in an unsafe environment because Twitter doesn’t want to permanently ban users or implement more drastic penalties for abuse.”

Only the attacked party can report abuse; deleted tweets can’t be used as evidence (nor can screen captures); adjudication of a result is at Twitter’s internal discretion, can take time, and doesn’t seem subject to appeal; and despite Twitter’s ostensible best efforts, individuals can create numerous new accounts to continue their behavior when one is deemed abusive and suspended or banned. Sarah Brown, a former UK elected official, and for a time the only openly trans politician in office, says, “I blocked most of [her attackers] manually, but a common technique of harassers is to create new accounts and try again from there, so it was difficult to keep up, and the ones that got through were often very distressing.”

Those affected can mute and block one at a time, even as new accounts spawn or new attackers emerge; they can lock their account, and withdraw their public participation. They can even shut down an account: silencing their voice and removing themselves from a community.

The article explores collaborative blocking, where a group of people create a list of accounts to block or, in some cases, mute. The list is propagated through a Web-based app that allows people to opt-in with a Twitter account, authorizing the app to carry out certain behavior on their behalf. Twitter allows clients and specialized apps to block, mute, and unfollow, among other actions.

There seems merit in this approach but the first step is for Twitter to support rooms (or pubs, as I think of them).