Why Blocking is Important for a Social Network
Earlier today Twitter reversed their decision to change how user blocks are handled after a backlash reaction on their network.
From the Twitter blog:
“Earlier today, we made a change to the way the “block” function of Twitter works. We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe. Any blocks you had previously instituted are still in effect.”
In a way, the current block at Twitter is sort of ineffective. If I block someone, the only thing it really does is prevent them from seeing my tweets when they are logged in (which also serves as notification to them that I’ve blocked them). They can still open up an unlogged-in version of Twitter (as easy as cmd-shift-N in Chrome, or cmd-shift-P in Firefox) and see everything I’ve tweeted publicly. Still, Twitter’s reversal shows that users really do care about blocking functionality and want more control and powerful blocking tools, not less.
I would argue that there are three key benefits that come from strong blocking tools on a social network.
1. Users feel empowered when they are more forcefully able to deal with harassment on a network. If someone is saying something offensive, why shouldn’t I personally be able to take control over that situation? If someone is making me uncomfortable, why shouldn’t I be empowered to deal with that for my own personal experience?
2. More effective blocking tools encourage more civil interaction. The thing that most trolls, haters, griefers, offensive jerks, etc. want on a social network is attention. By making it super easy to mute them or diminish them (especially by an intended target) it provides a disincentive for anti-social behavior in general.
3. Empowering users with blocking tools provides immediate relief for a user. Since oftentimes harassment is happening in real time, this can be more effective than waiting for customer service / community management reps at a social network to respond to reports of community violations. It is frustrating for a user to have to suffer even an additional 12 hours of harassment while a complaint works its way through to a community manager.
As far as best practices go, I’d hold up Google+ and Facebook as the networks that provide users the best blocking protection on the internet today.
Like Twitter, on Google+ and Facebook when you block someone they cannot see your public posts.
Google+ and Facebook take it one important step further though. Not only do they prevent someone you’ve blocked from seeing your public posts, they *also* filter the blocked user entirely out of your G+ or Facebook experience.
On G+ and Facebook when you block someone they become completely invisible to you everywhere on the network. It’s like they no longer exist in your social utopia.
That second block function is even more important than the first.
Flickr by contrast has some of the weakest blocking tools on the internet. When you block someone on Flickr, all it does is prevent them from private messaging you or commenting/faving your photos. Because of Flickr’s weak blocking tools, I’ve seen many of the most active, social accounts on Flickr leave due to harassment. This is bad design.
What makes harassment even worse on Flickr, is that (unlike G+ and Facebook) they allow anonymous troll accounts. So if a Troll1022 is harassing you anonymously on Flickr, and you report them, and three days later that account is deleted, all they need to do is set up Troll1023 and continue with the practice. Flickr’s weak blocking function allows virtually unlimited harassment on their network by anonymous trolls.
Protecting users and providing more control over your experience on a social network is important. It’s your most social and active users who will most likely sooner or latter run into friction. These are the users that any social network should be striving to empower.
I’m glad Twitter reversed their block policy after user reaction, and hope all networks realize how important the block feature is.