Twitter made a misstep when it changed its blocking policy, so much so that user outcry prompted them to revert to their original policy within hours (are you listening, Yahoo!? No, of course you aren’t).
Previously (and now), when a Twitter user blocked someone, the blocked user would know they had been blocked because they wouldn’t be able to view, follow or respond to the blocker’s tweets. Twitter’s revised policy meant that blocked users could still see updates, and could retweet and favourite the blocker’s tweets. This change seemed, frankly, a bit mental at first (hence the backlash, hence the policy reversion), until Twitter explained its reasoning: “In reverting this change to the block function, users will once again be able to tell that they’ve been blocked. We believe this is not ideal, largely due to the retaliation against blocking users by blocked users (and sometimes their friends) that often occurs. Some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse.”
Clearly Twitter’s heart is in the right place. With instances of severe cyberbullying – or is it just ‘bullying’ now? – playing out in the news almost daily, not baiting a bully into retaliation by publicly blocking but rather just shielding yourself from abuse seems like a pretty decent tactic. If a bully doesn’t know that they’re blocked, there’s no reason for them to try to work around it. And it would be great to have this option on Twitter (as well as other social networking sites), but for some of us, running a cloak-and-dagger defence simply isn’t enough.
Apart from the virtual citadel that Twitter’s full-block policy ensures, it also affords the satisfaction that the jerkfaced Twitter user who made your life miserable knows that you know that he knows that you know – and you’ve done something about it. Sure it’s passive-aggressive, but it just feels so good to click that block button and then imagine all the scenarios in which your abuser realises you’ve done it – really truly virtually not-really exiled him or her from your online life for what is likely a very brief period of time – that it’s almost criminal for Twitter to take the option away from us. But not everyone has such a lively imagination and wants to stop the abuse with a minimum of fuss and retaliation.
This is why Twitter should seriously investigate the possibly of offering more than one blocking option: one which would mirror the new/old policy of shielding on the sly, and one which would be like the old/new policy of total public Twitter annihilation. A simple choice should make the maximum number of users happy while still offering protection from online abuse.