Block First, Ask Questions Later

I’ve been doing something for the last six months or so that has greatly improved my experience of Twitter.

The short version is that I’ve been blocking much more often than I historically have, and it’s great.

The slightly longer version is that I ask myself the question “Would continuing interacting with this person be a net positive or a net negative for me?” and if the answer is that it’s a negative, I block them.

This still feels quite emotionally difficult. Blocking feels like a judgement on them as a human being, like I’m declaring them to be a terrible person. It’s not. All blocking means is “I do not want to interact with this person any more”, and that is 100% a right everyone has to assert for any reason. Interactions should be consensual (wherever possible – some interactions are e.g. legally necessary. Thankfully that doesn’t apply on Twitter), and you have the right to withdraw consent at any time.

It’s still hard. Sometimes I spend a couple seconds agonising over the block button, but then I press it anyway and feel an instant relief.

I think part of why this is such a big improvement on Twitter in particular is that Twitter is public, which means that there is an almost unbounded supply of people who might end up interacting with you. If a tweet gets popular, you might get hundreds (or more!) replies to it, and there’s only one of you available to deal with those replies. This makes it important to manage your time on those correctly, and blocking people is about the most efficient way of doing that (other than “Mute this conversation”, which I also can highly recommend).

It’s hard to tell whether someone is going to be a net positive or negative of course, but there are a couple of rules of thumb I apply:

  1. People I actually know almost never get blocked this way. I think I have applied this rule to exactly one mutual, and they were someone who I kinda-sorta knew and occasionally interacted with rather than a friend. I occasionally mute friends, but I try to remember to turn it off later (it would be nice if there were a timed mute button, but I think you can only do that for keywords).
  2.  The easiest way to trigger this is on a first interaction. If someone’s first interaction with me is rude and wrong, I will just block them and I won’t even feel bad about it. This is a little bit of a judgement on them as a person – this is the sort of behaviour that makes Twitter a tire fire, and participating in it is a jerk move.
  3. If someone’s first interaction with me is rude but right (in an interesting rather than trivial way) I might block them, or I might give them a chance. Depends how important I think the point they’re making is. If someone’s first interaction with me is polite but wrong then I’m unlikely to block them for it.
  4. The other thing that I occasionally block people for is when they repeatedly interact with me in some way that I find tedious. I do think I’m being rude by doing this, but the block button is way less socially painful for me to deploy than an actual conversation where I have to say “Sorry I just don’t find you very interesting”. I’d say apologies to anyone who has been on the receiving end of this, but honestly I plan to keep doing it so apologising would be a bit hypocritical.

That’s not an exhaustive list, but I think it covers most of the recurring patterns I see when doing this, and the important thing is the general principle: It’s OK to block people, and if interacting with them is going to make life worse, then blocking them will probably make your life better.



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