At the beginning of the year, the good folks at Lawfare suggested shared block and follow lists could be an answer to the lack of civility and excess of abuse on Twitter. This is not a new idea. The Lawfare article discusses Block Together – a robust tool for sharing block lists. And Randi Harper’s GGautoblocker builds a block list of accounts that appear to be associated with “Gamer Gate”. What Citron and Wittes propose is to take similar functionality and make it natively a part of Twitter.
I understand their reasoning, but I don’t think it’s the right answer. First, there’s the practical concern. People use blocks in different ways. Some people block with great impunity. They might not have a problem with the person per se, but maybe they just don’t want to be reminded of something. Others only block as a last resort. Trying to manage your own preferences while automatically getting someone else’s can be challenging.
And then of course there’s the fact that it doesn’t get harassers off of the platform. If a garbage human shitposts on Twitter, but no one is around to see it, are they still a garbage human? Of course they are. I understand Twitter’s commitment to being “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” The idea of free speech is critical to a free society. By the same token, there’s no reason they have to give it a platform.
I don’t have the answers. Targeted abuse is a tough problem to solve. As an example, one or more people have been creating account after account targeting meteorologists on Twitter. At last check, Twitter has suspended some 700+ accounts – identical in every respect except for the incremented number at the end of the handle. Worse, the abuse has spread to other platforms, so even if Twitter had a good way of addressing it, they’d be limited by the borders of their service.
Shared block lists might not be the answer to abuse, but maybe they’re the best answer we have right now?