Twitter's new Shared block lists are well intentioned…

I myself discussed such tools years ago with friends and associates—often in public.  But, we never imagined such a feature being executed by Twitter without some kind of interactive host service to keep them accurate, current, annotated and cancelable. Yet that is what Twitter has just announced.  And many people are celebrating, but I fear prematurely. 

I strongly feel that any seasoned Twitter user will be able to see the very large — if not fatal — flaw in this idea that will probably make it unpopular, controversial, infrequently used, and thus, not really the significant anti-abuse tool that Twitter and its proponents think it will be. In fact, it will actually offer new ways to abuse users.

I've discussed it with enough people I trust to know I am probably correct in my take on this, but perhaps I am l not. So let me lay out my fears and let's see what you think?

The Shared Block list idea is very basic 

I "export" my list of say 600 blocked people to you (I really have far more), and you being a big fan of mine, "import" my list and voila! You now block everyone that I blocked. Simple, right?  But what if I blocked them:

  • by accident — this happens 3-5 times a month on many devices (I, like many, can block people in the same week and rarely remember who or why until someone asks or tells me.)
  • because of some transient issue, grudge, gaslighting, or gossip. Drama you couldn't care less about.
  • I just don't like them, or hate their position on some topic or issue that you aren't even aware of or feel passionately about
  • my friend @SnippyWitch hates them and would kill me if I didn't block them, too
  • their shoes offend me, and I want thousands of my followers to block them… just because I can
  • a political operative in my stream copied my block list to thousands of other operatives so they know who I don't like — and then tell them.

Do you see the problem? These are just a very few examples. I can think of many others. I'm sure you can, too.

But, you say, people can be selective about which names they import!

Yep, and that sounds good on paper. But in actual practice it will rarely if ever happen on a large scale such as this.

Are you likely to take the time to study and learn about every name you see in my list of 600 accounts (or even 60), most of which you won't recognize, even if you already follow them? I myself follow thousands of people I enjoy seeing in my feeds, but I'd never recall their names on sight. And like me, you're very unlikely to notice that one special account that you like, but I don't. Yet if you imported my list with only a cursory glance, and no investigation as to why I blocked someone that you did not, poof, they're gone from your world forever.

But wait, there's worse!  Twitter's new feature also has an option to export not only your entire block list, but each and every name on each and every block list that YOU imported.

So now, in order to be fair to some people that you know could be innocent, or just to be responsible, you would have to review not just your own blocked names, but also those names on every list that you import.  Considering all the possible false positives already mentioned, can you see the potential for chaos, confusion, and unfairness? 
 
And worse, is the vast Scarlet Letter potential. if you end up on one famous/popular person's block list that many of their close friends and associates use, you will be forever invisible (or tarnished) to those people, and neither they, nor you will even know it. Even if you're on that list totally by accident, you have just been wiped from the face of their Twitter timelines, with very few options for remedy or recourse. It happens virtually every minute on Twitter. Not a day goes by that most of us don't see tweets like:

"Sorry, I blocked you by accident"; or "Hey, @tinkletoes, I just learned you blocked me, How come?; and finally, "Hey @ShortWad, please tell @JakeTapper to unblock me, willya?"

The ugly fact is, that now merely being on ONE popular person's shi…err… block list… will result in perfectly innocent people being blocked by very large numbers of that person's followers, friends, colleagues, contacts, and associates, and then exponentially, to far more people as their block list propagates to their own followers.

People will just be inexplicably disappeared from each other, bi-directionally, cut off from one another, and neither the blocker nor the blockee will even know that it happened, let alone why.

And even worse, resolving the oversights, mistakes, or malice will need a lot of open-channel communications across multiple timelines, streams, and communities. Correcting even a single error will require everyone who imported the list to be informed of it.  And that's if anyone even wants to bring it up.  Who wants to be seen broadcasting:

"Hey,@Caitlyn_Jenner, why did you put me on your block list available to your five million followers? What did I do to deserve that?" 

Few of us want to go through that. Correction, none of us do. Yet if you can't see it happening, and almost immediately, you could be new to Twitter.

Any way you look at it, despite the good that was meant to be achieved by Shared Block Lists, I fear very bad things coming from this idea. Even if it only gains popularity among a handful of sizeable accounts, it could wreak absolute havoc upon potentially thousands — even millions —of social graphs and relationships, or simply crush Twitter's wonderful ability to discover new and interesting people.  And you're not going to care that not everyone is being harmed by this optional tool, if it is you, a friend, or even your employee being harmed.

Just reclaiming one important relationship, personal or professional, could require a lot of time, effort—and even embarrassment.

While righteously trying to address the many issues of abuse that exist online, I fear that Twitter has made a mistake rushing into this particular feature with no public feedback, a very primitive import/export implementation, and virtually no communications capability for editing, updating, annotating, commenting, or appealing any of names contained in these distributed black lists.

If I am correct, it is likely to be a disaster already happening, especially for innocents who get tainted and/or rendered invisible to large numbers of important people and communities merely because one popular account distributed their name in a widely distributed Shared Block List.  

That's my take. What's yours? Your comments welcomed below (they're moderated, so don't expect them to show while I'm sleeping.)

Further Reading

When do Twitter block lists start infringing on free speech?   By @mathewi

An exchange between @mathewi and @anildash concerning "Free Speech" issues

  • FYI: I agree with Dash. There is no free speech issue here.


 

 

I have wanted to share… two of my favorite podcasters, Driftglass (@mr_electrico) and @Bluegal for so long that I finally decided to stop being so f-ing lazy and just start doing it.

I'm starting with Driftglass's recent dissection of Andrew Sullivan, the "retired" blogger that so many progressives have been hypnotized into believing had some great insight or value for them. I always found him to be somewhat of an ideologically con artist; a 'brand' that was a supremely useful voice for the emerging culture of the radical right now eating our country.

Driftglass explains him way better than I could. This excerpt is just a taste of his essays and analysis about Sullivan. I link to much more below.  I

If this is your first exposure to the ProfessionalLeft podcast, I try to listen frequently. They have unique voices and takes on the news each week. And ones that more progressives should be aware of. That's why I mention them so often on Twitter.  Great messages from smart voices are absolutely useless if they don't reach anyone.
 

 

Related

 

Glenn Greenwald's daily fixation about the perils and abuses of executive power have always been widely supported and promoted by the Cato Institute, the libertarian "think tank" founded by the now infamous right-wing industrialists known now as simply "The Koch Brothers." Glenn's latest number one fan on Twitter is Cato's (and Reason Magazine's) Julian Sanchez (@normative). The two of them have recently been the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb of the NSA/Snowden outrage machine, gleefully trading-off with and echoing each other's efforts to keep the topics of the NSA, Ed Snowden and Bradley Manning in the forefront of the media's attention span.  And the Kochs just couldn't be happier.

This paragraph will help you understand why:

From:  The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right by Lee Fang

Perhaps the most insidious strategy of the Koch brothers has been their ability to co-opt social liberals. The Cato Institute is known for its promotion of gay marriage and support for immigrant rights. In fact, a small number of libertarian fronts that receive funding from Koch charitable foundations do not toe the orthodox conservative line when it comes to issues like evolution or even drug policy. But these otherwise laudable causes are mostly a ruse. While the Koch brothers fund seemingly reasonable social libertarians with one hand, they finance a set of vicious social conservatives with the other. Peggy Venable, a longtime Koch operative, helped mastermind the crusade to rewrite the history textbooks in Texas to promote antigay bigots and to censor references to immigrant civil rights leaders like Cesar Chavez.6 Americans for Prosperity spent considerable resources promoting Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce and Colorado’s Tom Tancredo, two of the leading anti-immigrant politicians in America. Koch also gives heavily to antigay groups like the Heritage Foundation. In fact, Charles attends meetings of the Council for National Policy, the nation’s largest meeting group for far right social conservative donors, and in a speech posted on the group’s website, pledged an “alliance” with the social right to change American society. Essentially, Koch will fund both conservatives and liberals when it comes to social policy. Because for them, social initiatives are more often a Trojan horse for imposing their radical economic views.

[bold emphasis added]

Like most of the Right's calculated maneuverings, organizations like Cato are fond of any effort that attacks any institution of power which far right authoritarians like the Koch's don't now control. For decades, they have paid for an orchestrated effort to destroy the American people's respect for goverment, and thus, any authority that can pass social legislation aimed at greater wealth equality and social justice, which are both outcomes vehemently opposed by the Kochs and their plutocratic brethren. It is not an accident that Progressive civil libertarians and socially-regressive Ron and Rand Paul supporters have come together to noisily protest the evils of the "surveillance state," as Greenwald so lovingly refers to it. It's a strategy long in coming.

I urge you to read Lee Fang's book and understand just how systemic the plutocratic influence has become in America, and why it is leading to what George Packer calls "The Great Unwinding" of the American way of life. It is not that the strident voices like Glenn Greenwald's are not discussing matters important to liberals. They are. After all, Progressives—or at least, those claiming to be progressives—are his market and drive his income. But it is the way they are discussed that is working at cross-purposes with the larger goals of the American left. They rely on a ginned-up outrage directed mostly at mere tokens of authority, such as black Presidents like Barack Obama, and not at the true causes of our problems: the plutocratic elites like the Koch's who are only too happy to promote and pay for this distracting, hyperbolic antipathy toward elected representation and executive power. 

Does Glenn Greenwald openly work with The Cato Institute? No. At least not from any evidence I've seen.  But he has been paid to write for them in the past, and they eagerly stoke the outrage he so easily manifests with his daily writing. Outrage which an army of Julian Sanchez cohorts can get behind and push, helping to steer it in ways more directly in-line with Cato's ultimate goal of dismantling the Progressive agenda on behalf the Kochs and their many right wing friends in the energy, finance, cattle, and agricultural industries.

It is an informal convergence of interests that makes Greenwald their proverbial useful idiot who helps to drive the narratives that they want to see driven. Just as far and as fast as he can drive them.  And since he creates more disaffected progressives with every article he writes; people who often shriek that they are "done with voting","done with democrats," and "done with false hopes and promises," he is helping to drive the American Left right over a cliff and straight into the waiting arms of the quasi-fascist, quasi-theocratic plutocratic elites like the Koch family. The very forces of darkness who have spent at least 75 years trying to become the true fascist authoritarians that Greenwald professes to fear. Revealingly, he almost never actually writes about those fears, choosing instead to write passionately in favor of things like the Citizens United ruling on electioneering, which actually serve to stoke the causes of those fears. Handsomely.

If America, as we once knew it is to survive, the agenda of the Kochs and their elite partners must be stopped. But getting outraged at the latest Glenn Greenwald trope won't do that.  It will only add more fuel to the raging inferno of hate and disillusionment which will ultimately assists the ultra-far right with their ambition to seize total control of the United States. As articles like this demonstrate, they're already almost there. 

For better or worse, and regardless of their motivations or tactics, Greenwald and the Washington Post have helped to bring the NSA security debate to the front of the public discussion.  But now more mainstream journalists, advocates, and elected officials have to step-up and translate all this legitimate concern, and yes, even outrage into effective public policy prescription and legislation that can balance the security vs. liberty scale in a way that most Americans can support. That is an outcome that the Kochs are hoping Greenwald and friends will impede by promoting so much rage, distrust and rancor that only a dysfunctional national apathy remains. And again, we're nearly there.

I feel this entire NSA issue is far to complicated to be solved by any knee-jerk outrage about "civil liberties" and "respecting the fourth amendment."  It's just one more intricate problem that only responsible governance can address. A governance deriving its power from the consent of the governed. A governance with a real and potent authority that Libertarian industrialists, and the pseudo-Libertarian actors like Greenwald simply detest.

Update#1

Now that he's been shamefully "Pulitzer-recognized" for his famously shoddy work on the Snowden/NSA stories, Greenwald is less and less ashamed of demonstrating his frequent willingness to support the Koch cabal's transparent efforts to suck in the gullible on the left.  Here's the latest example: 
 


 

And not to be outdone, Glenn's frequent partner in these things, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has dropped any and all pretense of caring about any issue but  their hyperbolic hysteria over the "surveillance state." Here, we see their "senior activist" essentially providing an endorsement of the Tea Party because of the empty Liberty Now! rhetoric that EFF helped them refine over the past year.  They suggest not the slightest concern for the well tread fact that Koch/Cato and the Teaparty often use this simplistic civil liberties dogma in precisely the same way that conservatives have always used race*: to seduce voters motivated by narrowly focused, single issue, dogwhistle politics.
 


 

I will let Bob Cesca from the Daily Banter explain this farce to you:

"It’s difficult to find a more ridiculous whitewashing of the tea party outside of the tea party itself. The legacy of the founders? Wow. First of all, the tea party doesn’t even understand the actual Boston Tea Party, much less the intent of the founders. Yet the heretofore respected EFF has bedazzled the tea party with the gilded legacy of the almighty founders. As for the leaders the tea party has elected, is there one — just one — who’s not completely nuts or totally unqualified for the post?"

Here's Bob's entire post. Don't miss it ? Electronic Frontier Foundation Praises the Tea Party, FreedomWorks and Birther Larry Klayman

* Note: On using race and similarly incendiary issues to hang entire political strategies upon, Brian Beutler of the New Republic wrote a great paragraph today in his piece, The Right's Racial Blinders What really explains the politics of the Obama era.  The entire piece is excellent, but this is the money graf for my purposes:
 

See how it works?  The plutocracy will use race, civil liberties, environment, or any other issue they can that will—or might—lure gullible populations into their sphere of influence. They will achieve their selfish agenda by any means necessary.   But then, the same is largely  true of Greenwald. He hung his career on civil liberties, and always had libertarian leanings (to put it nicely) which never much cared for progressive politics or helping progressive causes.  As a result, ginning-up the importance of Koch projects, Ron Paul, Rand Paul, the Teaparty, or any other tool that supports or extends his hyperbolic surveillance state narrative seems a perfectly rational thing for him to do. 

But as more and more journalists and pundits discover him, post-Pulitzer, and finally-tune into his past and tactics, I wonder if he will be so cavalier about being this revealing of himself in the future. It was one thing when he was a nobody, and Tim Jacob Wise wrote a piece like this:

Of Broken Clocks, Presidential Candidates, and the Confusion of Certain White Liberals

But it will be quite another now that he's a Pulitzer Prize contributing author, Glenn Greenwald.

Stay tuned.

Update #2

A far more intellectual dissection of this very problem has just been published. I urge you to read: Cyberlibertarians’ Digital Deletion of the Left

Related

When computers are involved, otherwise brilliant leftists who carefully examine the political commitments of most everyone they side with suddenly throw their lot in with libertarians — even when those libertarians explicitly disavow Left principles in their work.

"Few people have done more in-depth research, reporting, and writing on the post-Obama conservative movement than Lee Fang. The Machine goes beyond the headlines and explores exactly how this ideological movement operates."
—Amanda Terkel, senior political reporter, The Huffington Post

After the 2008 and 2012 elections, we all thought the country was shifting toward liberal values. The right wing saw it too, so they warmed up their machine built over 30 years, stretching from Capitol Hill to local school boards. Think tanks and lobby houses, new media and old, consultants and old-time party hacks all fell into line to rev up The Machine against the newly-elected moderate Democrat named Barack Obama.

Yes, Hillary Clinton, there was and still is a vast right wing conspiracy. Luckily for us, Lee Fang has written the story of the conspiracy in the Clinton years and following right up to the 2012 election. Names, dates, and secret meetings are all in one compact book, where Lee's narrative proves what we all know: A small handful of billionaires and corporations drive politicians, the news, and day-to-day political discourse in this country.

 

And the graphic Greenwald wants you to look at is a fake — an altered version of a Think Progress graphic showing Norwegian anti-Muslim terrorist Anders Breivik’s citations of US bloggers in his “manifesto.” The altered graphic, to which they added my name in a very deceptive manner, with a bright green bar to make sure you didn’t miss it: