Twitter yesterday added a new feature to let users share each other's lists of people they have blocked. On Twitter, a blocked user cannot follow the blocking account, nor can they favorite tweets or retweet that account's messages. For public accounts, it doesn't prevent a blocked party from searching for or reading tweets, although some activities require being logged out of an offending account.
Having written here at Boing Boing about collaborative block lists almost a year ago, and being a user of Block Together myself, I was excited to see what Twitter would bring to the party as a supported feature.
They brought text files, the equivalent of coming to a dessert party with stale celery sticks.
The blocklist "sharing" involves exporting a file, which is produced in comma-separated value (CSV) format, sending that to a fellow human, who then imports the list. You can choose which accounts are included in the export or use a text editor to modify the list. (The feature is rolling out in the coming weeks, and will appear on Twitter's site under Settings in the Blocked Accounts section under Advanced Options.)
It's too bad Twitter doesn't have an API. Hashtag-irony.
The post announcing the offering also occurs in a vacuum, an all-too-typical situation with companies that feel they have to message everything. It would have been nice for it to have the modesty and generosity to acknowledge the work done by various uncompensated developers, and put this first step in context of their time and effort.
As noted in my blocklist article, several different solutions —a ll within Twitter's application guidelines — allow users to opt into dynamically updated collaborative lists. I use Block Together and subscribe to the Good Game Auto Blocker list, which blocks those who follow two or more of a short list of egregious accounts related to GamerGate.
I can unblock manually and permanently, and have many times. Block Together also has options to prevent two other kinds of places abuses arises from: young accounts (those registered in the last week) and accounts with almost no followers (under 15).
Block Together's developer, Jacob Hoffman-Andrews, wrote a supportive post about Twitter's blocklist export/import with a short list of what it doesn't yet provide. One of the most important elements is forgiveness: because the text lists are static, rather than dynamically linked, if you unblock someone, that change doesn't propagate forgiveness to anyone who has imported your list.
Let's give Twitter credit: it's less toxic as a whole today than it was a few months ago and certainly more so than last summer. It hasn't become a land of rainbows and unicorns, but it has gradually both improved reporting tools and its response to abuse reports so that things on average are less awful. Some people I know who have been regular targets are seeing vastly less nonsense.
A few of the worst trolls have been banned forever. One has just had his eighth account permanently suspended, as he tries to regain access that's lost to him forever.
I'm a very, very tiny target and I see almost none these days. That may have to do with a tool Twitter has released to verified accounts (I was verified as a journalist) that, when enabled, using machine-learning algorithms to block low-quality tweets:
Quality filtering aims to remove all Tweets from your notifications timeline that contain threats, offensive or abusive language, duplicate content, or are sent from suspicious accounts.
Twitter is testing a quality filter, currently available only to verified users.
This has probably helped, and it's clear this feature isn't permanently intended only for a tier of users.
And Twitter won't stop here. This text-only shared blocklist feature is a sketch of what's to come. As I've written about several times, Twitter cannot and shouldn't remove speech we don't want to hear, such as opposing political viewpoints and dad jokes. But it can reduce and discourage clearly threatening, harassing, and fully unwanted speech. This is another step in the right direction after years of inaction.