“Block with abandon.” That’s Andy Baio’s New Year’s Resolution. “I spent far too many emotional cycles last year on people arguing with me in bad faith, diving into arguments that could never be won. At some point, I stopped arguing and started blocking. I blocked hundreds of randos who insulted me or threatened people I admire— sea lions sauntering their way into my attention — and turned the Internet into something I could love again. Never. Again.”
Late last year, I adopted a similar strategy: I block. I block without hesitation; I block without regret. I block to survive being online.
No, I Don’t Have to Listen to You
I didn’t used to block. I’d unfollow. I’d ignore. If things got really bad, I’d stay offline.
But a couple of instances – beyond the very obvious #Gamergate harassment campaign – prompted me to change my online behavior, particularly as the number of followers I had on Twitter grew. It wasn’t simply that the harassment was directed at me; it was directed at those I interacted with as well. My friends. My colleagues. My followers. I would retweet someone with a small number of Twitter followers, for example, and the hordes of the Internet assholery would go after her. Accounts created to harass me would also harass my friends.
I recognize that having a social media profile is part of the “work” that I do as a writer. Particularly in light of the decline of RSS, people are likely to find and read my work on Hack Education thanks to links posted to Facebook and Twitter and the like. I recognize too that using social media “well” purportedly means doing more than broadcasting links. I have to listen, not just speak. So I try to engage in conversations – sometimes, I admit, conversations that aren’t really a good fit for a 140 character medium like Twitter.
But you know what? I don’t have to.
I don’t have to listen. I don't have to read every comments that's sent my way. I don’t have to respond. Not to everything. Not to everyone. I don’t have to put up with misogyny, homophobia, racism, jingoism in my Twitter feed. Twitter is designed so that if you @-mention me, I see it. I’m supposed to see it – and that’s the part of the point of online harassment: I have to see it. I block so that I don’t have to.
Racist sexist trolls don’t get to make demands on me, on my time, on my energy.
I have installed both The Block Bot and Block Together, which handle some of the blocking for me automatically. Without these tools, I don’t think I could continue to be on Twitter.
How they work:
The Block Bot app works by automatically blocking a list of people that are “mostly unpleasantly abusive and bigoted Tweeps, some doxers, stalkers and tweeps that are fakes of real accounts.” (That’s Level 1 blocking. There are 2 other levels with more sweeping block lists.)
People can add names to the Block Bot list by tweeting at the @theblockbot Twitter account. The app then blocks those accounts for everyone using the app (unless you already follow that account). This automates what many activists were already doing: notifying their followers about bigots and recommending that they block them.
Block Together lets you automatically block accounts that are less than a week old that @-mention you and/or accounts with less than 15 followers that @-mention you. These features help block “sockpuppet” accounts – that is, newly-made, throwaway accounts often created expressly for the purpose of harassing people. Block Together also lets you share your block list with friends so that they can also block the same accounts that you do.
No Fear of a Filter Bubble
I currently block around 3800 accounts on Twitter.
By using these automated blocking tools – particularly blocking accounts with few followers – I know that I’ve blocked a few folks in error. Teachers new to Twitter are probably the most obvious example. Of course, if someone feels as though I’ve accidentally blocked them, they can still contact me through other means. (And sometimes they do. And sometimes I unblock.)
But I’m not going to give up this little bit of safety and sanity I’ve found thanks to these collaborative blocking tools for fear of upsetting a handful of people who have mistakenly ended up being blocked by me. I’m sorry. I’m just not.
And I’m not in the least bit worried that, by blocking accounts, I’m somehow trapping myself in a “filter bubble.” I don’t need to be exposed to harassment and violence to know that harassment and violence are rampant. I don’t need to be exposed to racism and misogyny to know that racism and misogyny exist. I see that shit, I live that shit already daily, whether I block accounts on social media or not.
My blocking trolls doesn’t damage civic discourse; indeed, it helps me be able to be a part of it. Despite all the talk about the Internet and democratization of ideas and voices, the architecture of many of the technologies we use is designed to amplify certain ideas and voices and silence others, protect certain voices, expose others to violence. My blocking trolls doesn’t silence anybody. But it does help me have the stamina to maintain my voice.
People need not feel bad about blocking, worry that it's impolitic or impolite. It’s already hard work to be online. Often, it’s emotional work. (And it’s work we do for free, I might add.) People – particularly people of color, women, marginalized groups – shouldn’t have to take on the extra work of dealing with abusers and harassers and trolls. Block. Block. Block. Save your energy for other battles, ones that you choose to engage in.