The block button on Twitter can get a bad reputation when people in a position of power use to ensure they won’t hear a dissenting but informed voice–even when it might help them do their job or their work outright requires it.
Think of investor and Web pioneer Marc Andreessen blocking veteran tech journalist Dan Gillmor this morning, Cleveland Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia blocking The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery last week, or Donald Trump social-media director Dan Scavino, Jr., blocking my friend Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News and World Report’s managing editor for opinion, last month.
(Robert told me that getting blocked by one of Trump’s mouthpieces couldn’t quite match his dad Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., landing on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, but he still considered it a badge of honor.)
Seeing that kind of childish behavior makes me want to leave the block function–which stops a user from mentioning you or even seeing your tweets when logged in–to victims of GamerGate-level harassment.
But then I saw my notifications fill Wednesday with irate responses to my Yahoo Finance post about Twitter banning professional jerk Milo Yannopoulus. These tweets were marked by an absence of logic, facts and grammar–and, once I replied to some of them, a general unwillingness to consider that they might not have all of the answers to the universe in their possession.
I enjoy a good argument (you can see I waded into the comments on the post) but I also have a finite number of hours in the day. And being swarmed by trolling replies with no evident interest in an actual debate is properly read as a distributed denial-of-service attack on my attention span. There’s even a term for this kind of behavior: “sea-lioning.”
So I gave fair warning, blocked a handful of the worst offenders, and felt much better afterwards.
Then I politely answered an e-mail from an angry reader about the Milo post and got a more nuanced and understanding reply not long after. I wish that Twitter allowed for that sort of learning–for some testimony from people who have tried to engage with their Twitter trolls, see Ariel Bogle’s post at Mashable–but maybe some people just don’t want to admit in public that they were wrong. I will try not to fall into that habit myself.