When Michael D. Weiss, Professor Thomas M. Nichols, Kelsey D. Atherton, and Tom Gara “blocked” me on Twitter, each did so without warning or explanation. I discovered the evidence of their disdain only by Twitter happenstance, when I found myself unable to re-tweet their re-tweeted tweets. Only after clicking on their handles did I learn why I had been seeing less of them in recent weeks or months.
Though obviously of no great moment in anyone’s life, to be blocked by a popular tweep is frustrating. It arises as a peremptory disruption of normal exchange, a minor but practically incurable injury. A post at a Twitter maven’s blog once crudely described blocking as a “junkpunch,” and I wonder if my blockers were giving in to impulses on that level, unless they were just brushing me off like the specks of virtual dust people like me are to them. I also would not be surprised to learn that some or all of these gentlemen blocked me by mistake, but, in this social media epoch, for a high-followership account to block inadvertently would be as much an offense as blocking merely for giving voice to an adverse idea (or “advertently”). In short, blocking self-indulgently, whether out of laziness or anger or boredom or trifling annoyance or whatever obscure motive, amounts to a special kind of trolling: a narcissistic negation of discussion that, like most trolling, would be impossibly embarrassing to a contemptibly contemptuous perpetrator if attempted in “3-d life.”
Of the four men who have punched my virtual junk, I have had the most previously to do with Nichols and Weiss. In addition to retweeting them, I often responded or “@replied” to their tweets, I believe always politely, sometimes entering into intensive, sometimes multi-sided conversations with them. I memorialized one conversation with Nichols via Storify, one that began, ironically enough, with his complaints about being “shut up.” (Nichols has changed his twitter handle since the time of that discussion.) I addressed some of Weiss’s views, and his general outlook as I observed it, in a 2013 post on conservative responses to Obama Administration Iran policy. I have also had collegial side-exchanges with both men, for instance by fact-checking a mistaken claim by Nichols within his area of special expertise (nuclear arms policy), and also by offering him some minor proofreading advice on a blog-post. As for Gara, I followed his account at one time without knowing much about him. He may be a business editor at Buzzfeed or the Wall Street Journal, but I do not know for sure, do not presently expect to be looking into the matter further, and in fact see no good reason ever to give him another thought. As for Atherton, finally, he is someone who seemed to be knowledgeable about security-related issues, but I do not know much about him either. I recall a handful of I believe entirely cordial interactions with him.
Simple requests by any of the four to be left out of my twitter dealings would have sufficed: I will absent myself from anyone’s timeline on request, though I of course have no control over being brought into replies and mentions by other tweeps – as can still occur even after blocking. The effect they have achieved is mainly to ensure that I am less likely to read or be influenced by, or to pass on with or without comment, anything that they tweet, including their links to their own latest posts.
It all seems pointless and counterproductive: I cannot see a reasonable justification for these four tweeps or for anyone else to block anyone other than a spammer, a stalker, or a committed troll, and I am not a spammer, a stalker, or a troll. In my view all honorable tweeps, among whose number I cannot presently include Messrs. Weiss, Nichols, Gara, and Atherton, should block only for serious cause, and never without warning, especially since there is also now the option of “muting”: In other words, you do not have to block ______ from ever gaining the benefits of your wit and wisdom in order to keep ______ from bumming a morning high or deepening an afternoon slough.
I have also now taken a look at my own blocked list – now available under Twitter settings after a December 2014 rollout – and have discovered that no one on it needs to be denied access to my tweet-work: Most are inactive spam accounts reported long ago. There was one rude interlocutor who I am sure would have wandered back to wherever on his own. There was one particularly nasty tweep who now operates from a private account. There were also two “political” blocks, one each from either end of the left-right spectrum: On the left it was DemocraticHub, which I blocked after the following promoted tweet appeared and re-appeared in my timeline:
Do you hate right-wingers as much as we do? Follow us to found out as we strive to defeat their extreme ideology.
— Democratic Hub (@democratichub) October 30, 2014
In short, the account was promoting hatred – or was promoted hatred. It should probably have been pre-empted by Twitter itself as unforgivably uncivil and ungrammatical, too, but I could just as well have muted the account. On the right I was blocking SarahPalinUSA, against whom or which I acted in a fit of political pique one day.
If Democratic Hub or SarahPalinUSA proves problematic or upsetting or annoying again, he or she or it or them can be muted, and they and the twitter-verse can be informed as to the reasons. For now on, the policy I advocate for most tweeps is to aim for the response depicted below under my block settings. I would advocate it especially for Weiss, Nichols, Atherton, and Gara, but they would apparently prefer to remain beyond my reach, and I have, after some delay, gotten their message.