Discover more from David Moscrop
A Short, Definitive Guide to Blocking People on Social Media
Life is short: block early, often, and without remorse
I don’t know how many people I’ve blocked or muted on Twitter. I want to say the number is bigger than a breadbasket and smaller than the temples of Abu Simbel. I don’t keep track, but I know in recent years the frequency of blocking has gone up, way up, as the quality of social media has gone down, way down. It may be a losing battle, ultimately, like bailing out the Titanic with a 2-litre bottle of Pepsi. But I try my best.
Our social media practices aren’t incidental things. They aren’t frivolous. Because sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok (are we still allowed to mention it?), and so forth eat up considerable amounts of time, form part of our social and professional networks, and shape our moods, how we behave while using them and how we respond to the behaviour of others matters a great deal.
I deleted Facebook and Instagram last year. (I don’t miss either of them.) My single poison of choice is now bourbon, err, Twitter. My account isn’t massive, but at over 40,000 people, it’s big enough that my mentions can get busy and nasty. As my account grew and replies became more hostile, I adopted a policy of blocking immediately anyone who I caught insulting me or anyone I liked. I now also block anyone who annoys me or—and this is key—anyone who I think might annoy me in the future. Life is too short and my mood is too precious a thing to risk. So, in essence, I’ve adopted a combination of retaliatory and pre-emptive blocking, a history and policy of American military intervention in miniature. It works for me. The blocking, I mean. Not the dodgy and deadly foreign interference.
I typically block rather than mute. Some people prefer to mute and let those they mute scream into the void, unaware that they’ve been silence. I’d prefer that people know I’ve barred them for engaging with me and from missing my glorious Twitter wisdoms, whose value is precisely the cost of what you pay for them. I want them to know they aren’t welcome in any space that I have any amount of control over. To hell with them.
David Moscrop is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The old school free speech defenders, the sorts brought up by way of John Stuart Mill’s utopian and pre-social media conception of free speech, might object to my approach. In short, I don’t particularly care what they think or what they do with their own accounts. Mill argued, in the 19th century, that hearing others and their disagreement is salutory because it might change our mind or it might help us clarify why we believe what we do (and maintain our beliefs). Indeed, he suggested that not only does the speaker have a right to speak, the listener has a right to hear them. The process of free speech and counter-speech, Mill thought, promotes truth. Of course, Mill’s argument presumes people are making arguments in good faith and good form.
In certain settings, that may happen and Mill’s vision holds. Deliberation, for instance, in settings conducive to a thoughtful exchange of reasons for and against something, between interlocutors who view one another as having moral worth, can produce good outcomes, trust, and healthier communities. And good-faith debate in which people respect one another and their perspectives, and take the time to work thorugh argument and evidence, away from the maddening crowd of observers, can produce the same.
But that isn’t what happens most of the time on social media. And far from being a space for thoughtful, good-faith, considered exchanges in pursuit of “the truth,” sites such as Twitter are far more likely to operate as social Thunderdomes in which roving gangs of True Believers bash their opponents over the head with GIFs and memes and insults while trolls join in from the crowd to sow chaos and bots disrupt the flow of whatever decent exchanges might slip through. The sites love this process because it drives traffic and the trolls love it because they want to see the world burn. But it doesn’t do anyone with a brain any good. It’s not exactly what Mill or any other self-respecting philosopher of free speech had in mind, either.
During my time on Twitter, I’ve met a number of people with whom I have often disagreed, and continue to, but find smart and interesting and sometimes kind. I bond with some of them over this or that; rarely politics, but sometimes politics. Maybe video games. Or booze. They are the rare exception and I’m glad they never ended up on my block list, nor I on theirs. Having a loose blocking policy means I’ll miss some of those people as I cast a wide net of exclusion. That’s too bad, and I really mean it. I don’t have a rule or process for trying to avoid missing out on good people. I trust my gut and play a numbers game.
The caveat of my block early and often system is that you’ll get the most out of it if you develop an intuition (that is, rapid pattern recognition) that helps you sort out the trolly bastard types from those who actually make you think, consider, and reconsider—and those who might on balance add some joy or wisdom or both to your life. That intuition comes with time. I’ve come to trust mine. But I maintain a no-regrets policy of letting my itchy blocking finger do its thing. That policy has made my life and social media experience much more pleasant than it would have otherwise been.
So, block early and often, and be full.