Twitter's Block Policy Change Hurts Only The Victims Of Abuse

  1. By Ashe Dryden
  2. On December 12, 2013
  3. Tagged twitter safety abuse harassment

Update #1: I am looking for twitter employees to have a google hangout with about why this change has made marginalized people who use their service even less safe. If you are, or know someone who works at twitter, please email me.

Update #2: Twitter has changed their policy back to what is was before, but is not making positive changes toward preventing abuse or more responsibly handling abuse reports.


Twitter quietly made a change to their block policy today, taking away any of the benefits it had for people attempting to escape abuse and harassment. On top of that, users that were previously blocked can now immediately see all of the content of their victims.

In an article published in Forbes, Twitter gave some of their reasoning behind changing the block policy, including this gem:

“We saw antagonistic behavior where people would see they were blocked and be mad,” - Jim Prosser, Twitter spokesperson

This is dictating an abuse victim's safety based on how upset their abuser feels.

How Twitter's Old Block Policy Used To Work

Previously, a user would block an abuser and the following would happen:

  • blocker automatically unfollows abuser
  • blocker can no longer see abuser's tweets
  • abuser automatically unfollows blocker
  • abuser is unable to see tweets made by blocker
  • abuser is unable to retweet blocker's tweets

How Twitter's New Block Policy Works

Now, when a user blocks an abuser:

  • blocker automatically unfollows abuser
  • blocker can no longer see abuser's tweets

What Does This Mean?

This has, effectively, taken any of the teeth out being blocked by a user. What little protection blocking offered is now gone. Previously, blocking a user meant that they had to go out of their way to see your content and interact with you - either logging out completely or creating another account. Now, blocking effectively tells the blocker to close their eyes.

As someone who is routinely harassed, abused, and threatened on Twitter, this is terrifying. I, along with so many other cis + trans women, PoC, and other marginalized people who use the service, have followed twitters rules: block users, report the excessive cases, and hope that Twitter handles it. Twitter has not lived up to their end of the bargain. Any policies implemented have further harmed abused users or outright dismissed and ignored their safety concerns. Telling a user to make their account private to evade this abuse is victim blaming: it is putting the responsibility of safety on the abused without any accountability required from the abuser.

I personally have two stalkers on Twitter. I have blocked thousands of people over the course of my years on twitter for misogyny, homophobia, verbal harassment (both general and sexual), rape threats, and death threats. The idea that all of those users can now easily see my tweets, easily share them with their followers who are likely to be of the same ilk, and therefore have to deal with even larger waves of abuse is terrifying.

As soon as the block policy change news had circulated - less than twenty minutes - I have already had people I had previously blocked @replying me, rejoicing in the fact that they can see my content easily. Twenty minutes. 

I reported my concerns on Twitter and was immediately flooded with replies from people dismissing my privacy concerns. This is not something that people take seriously enough, it's not something that people fully understand how much it affects so many of us.

What I Need From You

This is not the first time that Twitter has made a change that has harmed abuse victims.

I am asking that if you know people who work at Twitter - especially those in a position to make a change - to connect me with them so I can speak with them over a google hangout. I don't believe that Twitter has listened to the voiced concerns of the users that experience harassment and abuse on an every day basis, as evidenced by both their creation of the report tweet button as well as their consistent dismissal of official reports made to Twitter through Support.

I don't believe that Twitter has had effective training at dealing with harassment and abuse. I don't believe they've responded to consistent reports from users that hasn't hurt those same users. 

I use Twitter daily and have been since 2007. If Twitter continues in this way, it will be abandoned by the users whose safety concerns have been continually ignored. 

Additional Reading

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