UPDATE: Twitter reverted the change to blocking after the immediate backlash. I’m not the least bit impressed – their post shows no awareness of the problems with their approach, and continues to make the case for letting harassers harass. It’s clear they reverted purely for PR reasons, and I have no respect for that attitude.
By changing “block” to “ignore”, Twitter is effectively saying, “if someone’s bothering you, we prefer that you just ignore what they’re saying, rather than making even a minimal effort to make them stop.” As any victim of sexual harassment of any severity, not to mention any child who was ever told “just don’t react to the teasing and they’ll stop”, could tell them, this doesn’t work. It makes the abusers, the stalkers, and the harassers more bold.
Yes, they could still sign out or make secondary accounts to get around the block, but there was at least a first line of defense before. A lot (I won’t say a majority, but in my experience many) of these people will not go to any great effort if you block them, out of laziness or lack of caring. Those who do can be blocked on secondary accounts, and their mischief is limited when they’re not signed in. But now, they’re free to just stare at what you’re doing all the time, and your only recourse is to not be aware that they’re doing it.
Twitter, this is dangerous. It is victim blaming. It encourages abuse, and it apologizes for the abusers. Revert these changes before there’s a story about some poor soul who was successfully assaulted because they thought “block” meant what it said and couldn’t see the warning signs.
For more information and thoughts on this subject, please check Ashe Dryden‘s blog and Twitter feed. No one has said it better than she has, certainly not me.
Full disclosure: I have never been a victim of harassment on Twitter, before or after these changes. But now, if I ever am, there’s less I can do about it.