In my article “Why Replies On Twitter Are Far More Damaging Than Direct Messages“, I address the limitations of the block feature on Twitter. As Twitter’s help portal states:

Blocking someone means that you (and your pic) will not appear on the blocked party’s profile page, friends time line, badge, or anywhere else. The person will not be notified that they’ve been blocked, and they will be unable to follow you. If your account is public, the blocked party can still view your profile page, but can’t receive your updates in their timeline or on their phone.

This is all well and good, but as a system it’s an extremely casual approach to a much bigger problem. When you block somebody, they can still:

  • Read your timeline
  • Send you @replies, which are still visible to everybody else, and remain within Twitter search, and will be delivered to you if you have a search for your replies configured on Seesmic Desktop or TweetDeck
  • Re-tweet your messages, which can give the impression to others that you are ‘friends’

TrollIf you’ve had experience as a bulletin board administrator, you’ll know that when you properly block somebody, you have the facility to stop the person from reading anything on the forum (assuming half-decent, standardised software). With plugins, you have the same powers when you run a blog. Likewise, when you block somebody on Facebook, that’s it for them. They can’t read anything you’ve said. You simply disappear.

Why Is It Different On Twitter?

So, why is it different on Twitter? Why does it need to be? I can’t think of any reason why somebody would think the block system as it stands is acceptable. Twitter’s block is a bit like taking out a restraining order on somebody, and then letting them watch you on a webcam.

In the comments on my recent article about Twitter’s spam problems, some of my readers expressed their feelings about the block issue.

Andrea says:

Also on the subject of blocking, I do think that it would be on everybody`s best interest to improve the current block system. What is the point in blocking someone if they can still come view ones updates and then go on to RT then and/or reply @ username which is then viewable by all who do a search for the said @ username. Makes no sense at all. A block should mean just that and not a “partial” block.

Kate adds:

I also agree with Andrea’s point – the blocking system should be improved; if you block someone it should be a total block, they shouldn’t be able to make contact at all. I’m guessing that would be more difficult to do, but it would clamp down on some of the bullying that happens.

We usually have fairly good reasons for blocking somebody. Typically, it’s because they are a nuisance to us in some way – a spammer, a troll, or somebody who is just generally unpleasant or demands too much of our attention. Hence, the last thing we want after making this decision is for the individual to be privy to workarounds in the system. In the worst-case scenarios, problem individuals can become a source of genuine stress, a situation which isn’t helped by Twitter’s lack of an abuse policy.

A Block Should Be Final

When you block somebody, I think that, like Facebook, you should become completely invisible and disappear entirely from the system for that individual. This means they cannot contact you in any way, nor should they be able to read your timeline. If they try to @reply you in a message, it simply disappears into the ether. If they include your @username in a reply to others, the message never reaches you, but does go on to others who have not blocked them.

Maybe your profile should come with various degrees of privacy, again like on Facebook: You could have it set to public, which means anyone (not blocked) can view your timeline, even if they’re not logged in (like it is at the moment); semi-public, which means your timeline is only visible to non-blocked users who are logged in; and the protected updates feature, as it is now.

Indeed, Twitter’s protected updates option is one way the block could work. When you block somebody, your updates should be protected from them. Maybe it even needs to say ‘this person has protected their updates’ when you block a user, so it seems fairly innocuous.

Because the last thing you want is for a person you consider a nuisance to become aware that you have blocked them. As said, like on Facebook, you simply need to disappear. Like magic. Twitter flips a switch, the network keeps right on going, and nobody in the audience has any idea.