- WASHINGTON POST
Elon Musk to Limit ‘Block’ Function on his Social Media Platform
14:13 JST, August 19, 2023
Elon Musk said Friday that the block function will be greatly limited on X, formerly known as Twitter, stripping the social media platform of a feature long seen a protection against harassment.
Musk said in multiple tweets that the block function “makes no sense” and that it will be “deleted as a ‘feature,’ except for DMs.” He was responding to a tweet by Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, an account representing a club of Tesla owners, which asked whether there was difference between blocking and muting.
Blocking a user on the platform prevents that user from interacting with an account – such as seeing a user’s tweet, quoting their tweet or addressing them directly. The blocked user knows they have been blocked. Muting an account, meanwhile, prevents a user from seeing the account’s posts. Muted accounts do not know someone has muted them.
It’s unclear when the change would take effect – or if the feature could be removed without violating the terms of service of both the Apple and Google app stores, which both require apps to provide the ability to block users.
For this reason, Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Musk won’t follow through. “If your app hosts user-created content . . . you need to give them the ability to block abusive users,” she told The Washington Post.
X did not respond to a request for comment. Google and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Following the announcement, some users of Musk’s platform described how limiting the block function would lead to more harassment on a platform that already struggles to contain abuse.
“The removal of the block function would effectively make harassment an official feature of Twitter/X, taking away what is the only setting that can reduce impact,” Tanja Bueltmann, a historian at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, tweeted on Friday. “It is an extremely ignorant and privileged perspective to think that blocking makes no sense.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland tweeted that it uses the block feature to limit antisemitic replies on tweets commemorating victims of the concentration camp.
“A platform that disregards the need to defend the memory of the victims demonstrates a disregard for creating a respectful and empathetic online environment,” the memorial wrote on Friday.
Such a change would represent the latest example of how Musk has transformed the platform that he bought for $44 billion in October, including dismantling measures aimed at user safety. Shortly after taking over the platform, Musk restored many previously banned accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump. He has also slashed trust and safety staffing, and dissolved a council that for years sought to make the social network safer and more civil.
Those changes were accompanied by a spike in online harassment, including toward ethnic and religious minorities outside the United States. In March, a Washington Post analysis found that the platform boosted hate speech via its recommendation page.
Last month, Musk rebranded the company as X, with the vision of making into an “everything app.”
Responding to the backlash, Aqueel Miqdad, a product developer at X, said in a tweet that, in the absence of blocking, the mute feature could be made “stronger” by adding functions of block feature, such as preventing people to reply to tweets or quote them – and by transferring block lists to mute lists.
Musk promoted Miqdad’s tweet and replied, “Mayhem over nothing,” followed by a cry-laughing emoji.
But Tracy Chou, an engineer who builds software to combat online harassment, said that such modifications would ruin the mute function.
“The great power of ‘mute’ today is that it’s a way to protect yourself from another person without them knowing that you have done so,” she told The Post. “If it’s obvious to the person that you’ve muted them, they’ll find new ways to escalate, just the same as they do with blocking today.”
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