Why Blocking People Makes the World a Better Place

Wednesday Aug 29th 2012 by Mike Elgan
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Do you hesitate to block people on social networks? If so, you shouldn’t. Blocking is a virtue.

Blocking people on social networks is beautiful.

Blocking on social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter is an act of kindness and compassion. It enhances free speech. It can improve your life, and make the world a better place.

You should block people without hesitation or guilt, and for a long list of reasons.

Most people have the wrong idea about blocking. They see it as an anti-social act of aggression or a petty act of censorship. But it’s the opposite.

Why Block?

When you go to a nightclub and somebody gets drunk and starts acting like a jackass, a bouncer will drag that person out and deposit them on the sidewalk outside. Is that inconsiderate to the jackass?

When a presidential candidate is making a speech to supporters, and a supporter of his opponent starts yelling slurs and profanity, a group of people will escort them out the door. Is that rude to the heckler?

When a woman nobody knows shows up to a party uninvited and starts preaching loudly about her religion, the host will ask her to leave. Is that unkind to the evangelist?

The answer to all these questions is no.

In the real world, nobody tolerates people who selfishly ruin conversations in a social setting. The reason society ejects conversation-killers is that allowing one person to ruin things for many people is unfair.

Blocking on social networks is just as important as removing conversation-wreckers in the real world. In fact, it’s more important. The reason is that people online are either “anonymous” in some way (if they use a pseudonym or fake profile information, you don’t have any idea who they are), or feel “safe” to ruin conversations because they’re not physically present.

Anonymity and physical distance emboldens some people to behave in ways they would never do in person.

And when one person selfishly hijacks a conversation, they can wreck that conversation for ten people, or a hundred, or a thousand. Block the one for the sake of the many.

(Here are instructions for how to block on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.)

Who Should You Block?

As a general rule, I recommend blocking anyone who you don’t like. It’s your social stream. It’s your cocktail party. You don’t have to justify it to anyone.

And I recommend that you block anyone who wrecks a good conversation. Here’s who I block:

Trolls. Wikipedia has a wonderfully accurate definition for an online troll: “Someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.... with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

When trolls are successful, they re-direct the conversation away from the subject of your post and direct it at themselves. If you don’t block trolls, you’ll rarely have good conversations.

Bigots. Racists, religious bigots, ageists, sexists and everyone else who ascribes bad characteristics to every member of a group.

If racists and bigots enrage members of the group they hate, then the conversation becomes all about the bigotry. They can also silence members of that group. Both outcomes ruin conversation.

Fanatics. Churchill said: “A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.” These people won’t stop until everyone reading your social stream agrees completely with their personal views about religion, politics, operating system or cause-of-the-day. They’re toxic to the free flow of ideas.

Idiots. It’s not politically correct to say this, but some people are just plain stupid. The wider world may be devolving into some kind of idiocracy. But it doesn’t have to happen in your own social stream.

Sexual harassers. I follow a lot of brilliant, accomplished women who post some profoundly insightful material, and occasionally someone replies with an inappropriate sexist comment. It’s demeaning and counter-intelligent.

The worst part is that in general the pervasive climate of sexism and harassment keeps women from posting things they otherwise would. Instead of backing off, women should post like maniacs and block like crazy.

People who think it’s a dating service. Related to sexual harassment, oftentimes everyone is having an intellectually stimulating conversation about the topic at hand, and some confused person posts: “Hey girl how r you_?” Sometimes, that person gets a response from another commenter, and they two start carrying on a public flirtation.

These people should get a life or get a room. Show them the door.

People who write in code. Everybody uses abbreviations like “LOL,” “IMHO” and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that. But others write their entire comments in code.

For example: “doez evry photo i post have2be mean...lol nd yes they r_.” I’ve noticed a trend recently where some posters are writing code that’s perfectly indecipherable. I don’t try to understand. I just block.

Why It’s OK to Block

Blocking doesn’t prevent the blockee from using the social network, and connecting theoretically with hundreds of millions of other users. Blocking isn’t banishment. It’s not censorship. It’s not insulting. It’s not rude. It’s just a good practice for cultivating good conversations.

On Google+, it doesn’t even prevent them from seeing your profile or public posts, or even commenting on them. The difference is that they have to explicitly go to your profile in order to see it -- after blocking, your posts aren’t delivered to them even if they’ve circled you.

And if they want to comment on your posts, they’ll have to do so on their own stream and to their circle friends, not yours.

Look, the typical user interacts with less than 1% of any given social network. You can afford to be choosy about who you invite into your online home. And the people you block will find others to interact with.

If you’ll forgive my bragging, I think my stream on Google+ has the best conversations anywhere on the Internet, thanks to active blocking: Google.me/+MikeElgan

It’s not the individual troll or abuser who degrades your conversations. It’s the collective effect of many different kinds of conversation killers that ruins a good social stream.

In the early days of blogging, a lot of free-speech loving bloggers declared their comment streams free of “moderation.” Nearly all of them have since changed their tune. If you have any significant traffic at all, you have moderate. And on social networks, that means you have to block.

So please do yourself a favor and shed any hesitation you have to block people. Blocking is the secret to hosting great online conversations.

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