On August 18, 2023, Twitter… we mean “X” owner Elon Musk made an announcement that the site will be removing the block feature for public posts, leaving the function only available for direct messages. He later clarified his (flawed) belief that the mute button is good enough to protect Twitter’s users.
Elon is, frankly, wrong.
Survivors of domestic violence and stalking block accounts for their own safety and mental health. It can help people share their story, connect with their support system, and enjoy the internet without the constant harassment of people who want to cause them harm or distress. And while not a perfect solution, it gives them some measure of control over their online presence even when the harasser creates new accounts for the same purpose. This is why we typically recommend survivors of abuse, stalking, and harassment block and report any accounts sending abusive messages.
Instead of blocking, Elon says that Twitter users should mute abusive accounts. The biggest problem with this approach is that the abuser can still send messages, which often includes threats, lies, and even non-consensual pornographic images. If the account is muted, the survivor won’t be able to see or address them, but everyone else on their timeline can. In effect, it gives control of the narrative over to the abuser while taking away from the voice of the survivor. This plan also makes it easy for abusers to view posts and replies from the survivor and their support system while remaining logged into their own account.
Blocking isn’t a perfect solution- there are ways around it, and stalkers or abusers know that. But taking away a tool that survivors of crime use to protect themselves is not okay. We’ve reached out to the Twitter team- and to Elon himself- to make it clear that this plan will put people at risk. Whether or not he listens remains to be seen.
Personally, we believe that Twitter will ultimately end up doing the right thing, but maybe not for the right reason. It’s been pointed out that the iOS app store requires that social media services require “The ability to block abusive users from the service.” Elon may argue that allowing users to block direct messages meets this requirement but we, and many Twitter users, can see that this isn’t enough to protect users.
Elon, millions of survivors of domestic violence, stalking, online abuse, and harassment are watching.
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