Twitter reacts swiftly to user backlash – reverses changes to ‘block’ function

13 Dec 2013

After Twitter made changes to its block functionality, where blocked users could still follow the person that blocked them, a backlash by users led to an emergency meeting at Twitter and the changes have been revoked.

Twitter is infamous for allowing user feedback dictate the direction of products and services.

But in this case the social network/media company reacted with a kind of preternatural speed that has to be admired.

Twitter made the decision yesterday to change the way the “block” function on the social network works. This decision was based on insight that users upon learning they are blocked don’t react kindly and that this has inspired negative consequences or reprisals against the original blocker.

However, almost immediately the Twitter feed went into overdrive as users expressed their disbelief that blocked users can continue to see your tweets and follow you on Twitter.

This raised a storm of debate about privacy and the implications for people who may be stalked or harassed via the service.

The power of the crowd prevailed and Twitter has rolled back the decision for now until it can find a better way to protect user privacy and at the same time prevent ugly scenarios arising if people react negatively to being blocked by other users.

Blocks remain in effect

Writing in the Twitter blog, VP of product Michael Sippey said: “Earlier today, we made a change to the way the ‘block’ function of Twitter works. We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe. Any blocks you had previously instituted are still in effect.

“In reverting this change to the block function, users will once again be able to tell that they’ve been blocked. We believe this is not ideal, largely due to the retaliation against blocking users by blocked users (and sometimes their friends) that often occurs.

“Some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse. Moving forward, we will continue to explore features designed to protect users from abuse and prevent retaliation,” Sippey said.

And with that the revolution is over for now. But it shows how deeply users care about the structure of Twitter and how Twitter itself is prepared to take those feelings on board.

But it is a balancing act, as Sippey notes: “We’ve built Twitter to help you create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. That vision must co-exist with keeping users safe on the platform. We’ve been working diligently to strike this balance since Twitter’s inception, and we thank you for all of your support and feedback to date. Thank you in advance for your patience as we continue to build the best – and safest – Twitter we possibly can.”

Frustrated engineer image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years