Sometimes blocking harassers on Twitter doesn’t do the trick. Many Twitter users want better ways to deal with them. Now they have one.
In an attempt to help users better manage their accounts and block lists to prevent harassment, developer Jacob Hoffman-Andrews created “Block Together,” a tool that lets users automatically block new users who @-reply them and share their block lists with other Twitter users.
— Jacob H-A (@j4cob) August 5, 2014
User unhappiness with Twitter’s existing harassment-management systems came to a head last week during a hashtag-based Twitter interview that CNBC hosted with CEO Dick Costolo. The network asked users to tweet their questions for Costolo with the hashtag #AskCostolo, and more than 30% of the questions had to do with safety or harassment on Twitter. CNBC didn’t #AskCostolo any of those questions.
Twitter doesn’t provide the best tools and resources for people who suffer harassment. Users can can block harassers or spammers, but often enough the blockees just create new accounts and continue to harass their original targets. Reporting these harassers can be difficult as well, especially if they delete their accounts. (Twitter, of course, also has to balance safety issues with its commitment to freedom of speech, even for Internet trolls.)
Users That Flock Together, Block Together
Hoffman-Andrews, a former Twitter engineer who now works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was inspired by other tools like the Block Bot, which automatically blocks stalkers or spammers at different levels of unpleasantness.
Block Together enables you to block new accounts less than seven days old that @-mention you, and can generate unlisted URLs to let people share block lists with friends to prevent other people from facing similar harassment.
Block Together isn’t officially sanctioned by Twitter, and the tool is still in beta. Hoffman-Andrews encourages anyone who has suggestions or wants to improve it to contact him or submit a pull request on GitHub (if you’ve submitted code changes).
Many of Twitter’s most popular features—like @-replies and hashtags—originated with users themselves who wanted better ways of communicating with each other. Over time, these user-created features became part of Twitter’s core.
Maybe Block Together is another example of the Twitter community rallying to create and potentially popularize a much-needed feature that could also eventually get absorbed into Twitter proper. It’s one that many people clearly need.
Lead image by Flickr user Alex Holyoake