To block or not to block: that is one of the most difficult questions any of us face when we’re out there in the social media trenches.
I always regarded blocking as an admission of defeat. Heck, I rarely even unfollow people, and on a public platform where you take the good with the bad, blocking should be a last resort. Having rotten tomatoes lobbed your way is one of the occupational hazards of raising your head above the parapet. I follow 4126 people on Twitter, many of whom irritate me or with whose views I disagree, but I like the chaos. I think it’s important to be confronted with views you don’t agree with, or you end up in an ever-expanding circle-jerk where everybody echoes anyone else. That’s surely missing the point.
“Don’t block,” I remember advising a public figure who had asked for my advice last year. “It sends the wrong signal; it makes you look defensive.” That was back in the days when I blocked only the very obvious trolls, like the one who resurfaces every now and then to accuse me of being a member of the AWB (huh?).
But I am not sure I would offer the same advice about blocking now. In fact, I definitely wouldn’t, because since then I’ve blocked several trolls and proto-trolls, and you know what? It feels great.
Here’s the thing. I spend time on Twitter because I like it here. Sure, I don’t agree with everything I see. Sure, it’s easy to let emotions and ego do the talking and sure, I have the odd spat. But it’s enjoyable because there’s always something new, there are interesting opinions, and people, for the most part, are worth talking to. Twitter is where I get to hang out and be myself, and say what I like (within reason). Trolls and proto-trolls make Twitter a less enjoyable place to be, and for that reason, I am no longer prepared to tolerate them.
It’s worth remembering that blocking isn’t depriving the other person of their right to express themselves as they see fit (the worst trolls are always the most protective of their right to free speech); it just means that you don’t see their mentions.
Here are grounds I justify blocking:
1. Out and out abuse
This is a pretty obvious one and the most clear-cut case for clicking on “block”.
2. Excessive noise
When someone starts becoming like a Jack Russell nipping at your heels and distracting you from interactions with people whose opinions you respect, then blocking should seriously be considered.
3. It’s too upsetting
A complex and nuanced situation, this, but sometimes we have to filter out what we can’t handle. If somebody’s tweets trigger negative emotions that distract you from your work and keep you awake at night, block them. Seriously. It’s just social media, and your sanity matters more.
4. Constant personal sniping
Less obviously unacceptable than out-and-out abuse, but even more draining.
Not all opinions are equal. If someone is willfully obtuse, and won’t stop tagging you, block them. When it comes to people who are just plain dof (but think they’re smart), my three-strike rule is down to one.
“Blocking is just fine,” as legal expert Paul Jacobson tweeted me. “No need to let people into your space who you don’t want to be there.”