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.


 

 

UPDATE/NOTE:  Twitter has a very poorly-timed bug. If you're having trouble changing your avatar, see note below.


 

I so rarely do this, but as I wrote in a post last week, and detailed in my primer on the crisis, what is happening in Wisconsin is too important to not do everything that we can to show support for the demonstrators there; locally, regionally, nationally, and globally, and on Twitter, Facebook, or the back of your damned car.  

Last night, filmmaker Michael Moore asked everyone to wear red to show our solidarity. And this morning, my old friend @hankronan messaged me and suggested Wisconsin Badger Red for our Twitter dress, also known as our avatars.

Now given Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck's faux-fixation with communism lately, the color red might not have been the best idea, but screw 'em all. Wingnuts don't own the color wheel, eh?

Look my progressive/liberal friends and neighbors: this is our Stonewall, Waterloo, and <historical name your battle of choice>.

But win or lose, it cannot be our Last Stand.  So please don't just sit on your ass and watch. Do something; anything. Send yourself, your money, some pizza, or call a union and ask what you can do. If nothing else, just make a Tributar like mine shown at upper right. (I've provided some tools to help you make one below.) 

If you want to be subtle, just stick a red square or dot in the corner of  your avatar. As with much in life (except some of my posts), it just doesn't have to be complicated to be effective.

It's the least you can do. The very least. You only have one country, and you may not have it for much longer. So fight for what you have, and fight as hard as you are able, while you still have a country to fight for.

As always, please use the Tweet button to distribute this post to anyone that should care. Thanks. (Note: When you use the button, you increase the #tally, and that encourages others to do the same. This has greater impact than simply retweeting the message that brought you here.)

Tributar Tools

Avatars with some special image, color or text signifying some event or cause are often called "twibbons." I never like terms that are twitter-centric, or for that matter, dedicated to any one social media service, unless they are only applicable to that service. So last year, I coined the term "tributar" at Urbandictionary,com, after seeing Keith Olbermann make one to honor his late-father last year.

Tributar Editors

  • Twibbon.com — is probably your fastest and easiest option. It's very easy, and the site has instructions. Or if you enjoy tutorials, here are some video guides.
  • Photobucket.com — is very easy to use, according to @angryBlackLady.
  • I really never use these tools — because I really don't do many Tributars, personally, so if you know a better tool, please tweet it to me at: @shoq. I will post here.

Image Editors

If you're not a Photoshop wizard and you want to do it yourself, here are some web-based tools you can use. While it may seem like a lot of work to learn the basics of image editing, it won't take more than 15 minutes to change a color the first time if you have no experience whatsoever. And then you'll know how to do it for the next big thing.

Human Editors

  • Just look for someone with a cool red avatar, and ask them how they made it, or if they will make one for you.
  • If you want to volunteer to make them for others, I will be happy to post your twitter handle here. Just tweet me at: @shoq.

Computer Code For "Badger Red"

One of the code(s) below will render a shade of red in your editor:

The PRECISE WISCONSIN BADGER color is: (Hat Tip to @gaborger)

  • RGB: R 191 G 0 B 0 …or
  • Hexidecimal: BF0000

My Tributar above uses a slightly brighter value, for contrast with a darker image like the @Shoq panther:

  • RGB:  R 254 G 0 B 0 …or
  • Hexidecimal: FE0000

If you don't know what these codes mean, it doesn't matter. You can probably figure out where to put them in your editor. If not, just pick a nice red from the editor's palette and move on :)

Twitter Avatar Bug

UPDATE/NOTE:  With their usual perfect timing, Twitter has a bug and it's not displaying the "Change Profile Image" button on Settings/profile screen.  They claim it's resolved, but it's not.  To work around this, just hold down SHIFT key and press your browser's reload button. After a few times, the button should appear. If it doesn't, try clearing your browser cache first  (Google-it for your browser) and try again.

Related

 

This page will explain, in the simplest possible terms, why many use a period or other character before a @Twittername. While I once wrote a widely circulated explanation, it was rather dense, and I find that at least a third of my stream still doesn't understand the issue. Thus, I felt a simpler explainer might help.

What is the period (or other character) before the "@twittername" for?

In the simplest possible terms, it "breaks" Twitter's native (built-in) reply threading (a fancy techy term for connecting tweets together).

Without it, your Tweets beginning with @someName will NOT show up to your ALL of your followers, UNLESS they happen to follow both you and the person you are replying to. 

Will only a period work?

Nope. Almost any character will work just as well.

All that matters is that the ?@ character combo be the very first characters in your tweet text.  That said, the period, because I and a few others hammered Twitter streams with it for over 2 years, has become the de facto standard. I would not deviate from it because a) it will just confuse people, and b) there's no reason to. The period is so small, that while anyone can still see it, they visually just tune it out. It has no impact on Twitter readability.

Doesn't that waste a character in my text?

Yes, but LOLs waste 4 (including the space after), and we know you ain't giving them up, right Spanky?  Now STFU about one lousy character and keep reading.

Why would Twitter want to hide my replies from my followers?

The logic is that by only showing replies to those who follow you and the person you're  engaging, innocent bystanders who are not interested in your conversation will not have to see it.

Twitter did not always do this. All replies were seen by everyone no matter what.  While this forced change of Twitter behavior caused a huge furor at the time, as with many Twitter changes, the userbase had no choice but to eventually learn to accept and live with it.  In fact, even I have come to welcome the change. But then, I never did mind the logic. It was the very confusing way they chose to implement it (and spring it on us without much diplomacy) that irked me (and others).

Again, back in May of 2009, I wrote about Twitter's "Replies Issue."  Read it if you like the grim details. Otherwise, find something better to do—such as keep on reading.

But doesn't using this trick make it hard to follow a conversation?

Sometimes, but rarely. The downside is that it breaks Twitter's native connections, so users of Twitter.com (and some clients), cannot "thread together" the stream of messages between the two participants. This is often called "reading the conversation."

Why don't I (and possibly you) care?  Because the best "conversations" usually involve many more than two people anyway, and the threading never worked for that at all.  So I simply use "search" of all the names I care about. It's an extra step, but since most of my frequent engagements are all with people I follow anyway, we all see each other's updates. So it's only only when the discussion is with someone I don't follow, or when  I want to see what the whole herd is saying that I bother to use the search method. But I do it so often, it's not a bother. I usually have a browser search page open all the time, and I just change the names and press go.

Should you always use this technique?

Absolutely not. The rule of thumb should be "Is this something of interest to enough of my followers that I want them all to see it?"  If the answer is no, then simply reply normally without the period.

So why does @Shoq appear to use it so often?

Three reasons:

  1. Because the majority of my tweets are about political or social issues that I feel are of interest to all or most of my stream or they probably wouldn't be following me in the first place.
  2. I may be responding to some wingnut with a dozen followers and I want to amuse or inform my stream about the idiot.
  3. I use it so often for 1 and 2 above that it's become a habit I don't always break when I should. Me so bad. I hate me for it. You can too.

Doesn't Tweetdeck (and other clients*) give you the option to see all replies?

Yes, it does. But Tweetdeck is only one of dozens of popular clients*, and support for this special feature is very rare at this time. And Twitter.com (the client which most people still use), has no such support.

Why doesn't Twitter just build an option into their client?

Because neither software development nor software developers are very rational entities. They do things in their own way, in their own time frame, and for their own reasons. They really don't give a rodent's rectum what you think about it.

But not all developers are total asshats. Hell, if I ruled the world—or at least Twitter— I would implement a "Reply and Reply to All" feature. Just like email. Yeah, it's simple. That's why they missed it.

Where can I learn more?

You can't. All of human knowledge on this topic stops right here. You could Google for it and prove me wrong, but nothing good could come of that. This issue is confusing enough, and you have already been well-armed with all that really matters. Learn to be content with the easy answers. There are so many hard ones that we all need to worry about.

*Oh, and WTF is a "Client?"

Something I get asked about often, so I think I should finally explain it here, even if it has very little to do with Twitter replies.

I can do that, because, at least within the narrow confines of this document, I rule the world :)

A client is a term programmers and us techy types like to use to describe a program that communicates with another programmed service on a remote computer somewhere. Tweetdeck is a client for Twitter, Google Reader is a client for news feeds, etc..  Often, many clients will exist for the same service. (Twitter has hundreds, but only a dozen or so good and well supported ones).

How do I use a Bidet?

Now this is something you could have Googled for yourself. But as you have so often come to expect from me, I've saved you all that time and effort. You're welcome.

How to use a Bidet Properly (Video)