Updated: Twitter tries to improve its block feature, but critics say it has done the exact opposite

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This story was updated at 8 p.m. PT after Twitter reversed the changes to its blocking policy.

After an outpouring of criticism from those who have been harassed on the service, Twitter reversed changes that it made to its blocking policy on Thursday. The company posted an update on its blog saying: “We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe.”

The service rolled out the new policy on Thursday, changing what happens when a user blocks another user. While the company argued that this was an improvement over the old approach, some of those who have been forced to use the block feature in the past protested that the new version of the policy would actually make things worse.

According to a Reuters story about the changes that was published late on Thursday, senior Twitter executives in San Francisco had “rushed into a meeting to discuss the uproar.”

https://twitter.com/seriouspony/status/411292153059344385

Under the old policy, a user who was blocked couldn’t see or interact with the tweets of the person who blocked them, and they got a notification that they had been blocked. Now the blocked user won’t be notified, but they will still be able to see the blocker’s tweets and interact with them by retweeting or favoriting them (although there is a workaround). As Kashmir Hill of Forbes points out, the new feature is more like a “mute” button.

“Blocking someone on Twitter now actually means you’re just muting them. It’s the digital equivalent of plugging your ears; they can shout but you won’t hear them.”

One argument in favor of the new policy is that since so much of Twitter is public, users weren’t really blocked under the old process anyway (since they could just log out or create a new account). Users can still make their accounts private — which means that users have to request to follow them — and anyone who is blocked by such a user is automatically forced to unfollow them.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and Twitter spokesman Jim Prosser said one feature of the new process — the fact that a blocked user isn’t notified — should help to cut down on some of the anger and retaliatory activity that has been seen in the past by users who were blocked. According to Costolo, this feature had been requested by many users who have experienced abuse:

Others, however, said that the moves by Twitter seemed to be favoring the interests of blocked or abusive users rather than those of the abused, since blocked users will be able to retweet and comment on the updates of their targets without them knowing. Some argued that this seems at odds with the company’s stated intentions to improve its treatment of users who have been subject to harassment — such as a British freelance journalist, who complained after being subjected to hundreds of abusive comments.

Political analyst and writer Zerlina Maxwell has launched a petition on Change.org asking Twitter to reverse the new policy — which she called “a nightmare” — saying it makes things worse for those who have been harassed:

“This is a huge and very serious problem for people, like me, who have received repeated rape and death threats on Twitter on a fairly consistent basis… Twitter is no longer a safe space. As a public person who uses the medium for my work, I am very concerned because stalkers and abusers will now be able to keep tabs on their victims.”

Some observers wondered whether Twitter’s changes were implemented because the company — which just recently went public and now has a market value of $30 billion — is concerned about the potential impact of users who might choose to block advertisers or brands. Costolo, meanwhile, said in a follow-up tweet that the company is continuing to evolve its policies, including the “report” button that it recently added to allow users to report abuse.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / Alexey Losevich

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