There are a lot of things that Elon Musk already got it wrong in his still very short tenure as Twitter owner and CEO. Another highlight became public at the beginning of last week. Suddenly, Musk’s messages started appearing in the feeds of unsubscribed Twitter users, in some cases going so far as to almost exclusively show the owner’s tweets.
As it turned out, the owner was annoyed that his messages weren’t getting more audience. In response, he instructed his programmers to change the filtering algorithms so that he would now appear on the screens of as many users as possible. Awkward? Definitely, but Musk’s antics can also be used to think about visibility and the practice of social media in general.
Of course, there’s no question that the block button is an important tool that allows women or vulnerable groups to experience a semi-civil life on social media platforms without being constantly harassed. There are now apps and websites like block party, which automate the hiding of unpleasant opinions or people. For example, all profiles that like or retweet a supposed post are blocked. The user decides what the objection is: Is it about more or less justiciable messages or just unpleasant opinions?
The blocking bots are the end of any debate
Assuming that every online interaction is the logical continuation of an offline action, it’s worth pondering what the analogue equivalent of such a mute on social media platforms is. Certainly not the public confrontation, the social affront. Because the blockage is not communicated to the outside world. So you can find someone stupid, even for years, without the other person noticing it at all.
So the block includes more. Doesn’t that sometimes mean that you could make things too easy for yourself? Hides all unwelcome opinions, even interprets the “yes, but” of a civilized conversation partner as an admission that might be worth blocking? The respective worldview camps have long maintained their own long lists, which can be used to preemptively remove the supporters of the other side from your social media feeds. It is no longer possible to trace who is on these lists, which often include tens of thousands of user accounts.
The function is an “imperfect solution to a ubiquitous problem,” writes Jillian York, director of the digital citizen movement Electronic Frontier Foundation. She wondered “if our liberal use of the block button is preventing us from experiencing the kind of reconciliation that can take place in our offline communities.”
And what about Elon Musk? He caught a lot of headwind for his ego trip. The hashtag #BlockElon trended at times. This fits well with a campaign called Block the Blue, which has been running for some time and whose block list includes all users who pay $8 a month for the new version of Twitter’s verification service. Anyone who hopes for more visibility from the blue tick that can be bought will simply be blocked.