Twitter’s gender problem: blocking, and trolling unchained

Twitter has amended its blocking function, a move whose implications have been set out by @hollybrocks in an excellent post.  “Previously”, she writes, “blocking someone meant that they automatically unfollowed you, and if they went to your page, they couldn’t see any of your tweets, photos, videos, links – anything.” Now, though, if you block someone they can still follow you and retweet your tweets. The only difference is that they can’t see what you’re saying about them. Effectively, Twitter is saying to people being harassed by unwelcome followers that they should adopt the policy of “if I cover my eyes, you can’t see me”.

I mentioned on Twitter that these changes enabled harassment, and I think it’s notable that the only people who wondered why this was were men. This, I believe, is because men have a fundamentally different experience on Twitter to women. My female friends seem to get far more harassment merely for stating their views than men do. They know, for example, that a common form of online aggression is to have someone who hates you constantly retweeting on your tweets to others, so that the can pile on the abuse. These new changes are making it easier for online abusers to hunt their targets in packs.

The issue here for Twitter is seemingly one of gender. It is difficult to believe that these changes would have been made if there were more women involved in making the major decisions for this company. Indeed, it appointed its first female director, Marjorie Scardino, only a few days ago, news which soon looks to be engulfed by this brewing PR disaster. As the same article notes, “Unlike Facebook, though, Twitter still doesn’t have any high-ranking female executives.” Scardino joins seven white males on the company board, each of whom are presumably oblivious to the online barrage heading their way.

Twitter is a global brand and product, and it needs to move swiftly to address the needs of its diverse users: particularly when it has inadvertently put many of them at renewed risk. If you would like to make the blocking function far more robust, then you can sign and share this petition, using the #RestoreTheBlock hashtag started by @dwalton1 and continued by @judeinlondon and @stavvers.



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