So, I’ve been needing to write this for a long time. The Block Bot is soon to be on the way out. After several additions in functionality, personnel changes and countless threats of legal action and assorted drama, we are slowly putting it to rest.
Why? Well, someone is currently coding a replacement application and the concept of blocking lists has caught on enough that there are other alternatives, such as block together and various algorithmic block lists such as the ggautoblocker.
One of the main criticisms of blocking lists remain the same – that they are authoritarian and pro-censorship. The critics say that if people use a blocking list, they are necessarily cutting themselves off from “dissenting ideas”. This criticism has been rolled up into the anti-“SJW” rhetoric, accusing the Social Justice Crew of censorship if they criticize representation in games, speak out against assholery in the media, or oppose speaker invites to bigots. To the “social libertarian” – being offended is anti-free speech. Not wanting to listen to someone is censorship. Refusing to pay someone to speak is silencing. Even more strangely, since free speech exists to protect all speech (even offensive speech) somehow saying shitty things for the sake of saying shitting things is radical freedom or something.
At any rate, people who actually care about freedom of conscience and expression in a serious way have moved on from that sort of simplistic bullshit a long time ago. We all know that there will always be limits on speech and for a society to function there needs to be. For example, if someone decided to stand in the middle of a college campus screaming libelous statements, gory insults and detailed threats at random people walking by while waving a legally obtained and licensed firearm, how should our society react to that? More speech?
So can we please move on?
The question we should be asking ourselves is, “Who decides?”
When I’m teaching, to a very large degree, I decide. It’s my responsibility to create an environment where learning can take place. This means that if someone is disruptive, I have the authority to ask them to leave. “Disruptive” doesn’t just include being noisy, but could also involve creating a hostile environment by being insulting. This power exists for a completely pragmatic reason, but certainly could potentially be abused. There are checks and balances on my power and this power only extends to my classroom or lab space. Nobody seriously contends that those sorts of limits on speech should not exist.
There is speech that I wouldn’t allow in my classroom that certainly should be allowed elsewhere. For example, I might ask a student to turn off their music, suggest that they not talk to me during class about their grade or insist they tell dirty jokes elsewhere. Only in extreme cases would a more centralized authority, such as a university committee or the police, become involved due to the nature of the speech.
On Twitter, there are few types of activity that are worthy of reporting to Twitter and fewer still that rise to the level of alerting law enforcement. This is how it should be.
Critics of the Block Bot often suggest that subscribers use only personal blocks, report activity to Twitter, make their account private, or leave Twitter.
Personal blocks are not sufficient for everyone, which leaves either isolating oneself or relying on a central authority to make moderating decisions. Both of those alternatives are counter to the free flow of ideas.
So, who decides?
Chances are, my account is on several block lists. This does not bother me in the least. When someone uses a block list they are deciding, personally, to either use a tool to moderate their media feeds or not to. It does not change my ability to speak or for those who wish to listen to me, to listen. It certainly is not “censorship”.
Placing my account on a block list is much less punitive than attempting to get my account suspended, sending emails to my employer suggesting they fire me, lodging nuisance complaints with regulatory agencies, or threatening lawsuits. (Yes – all of those have happened to me and other members of the team.)
What it boils down to is that some people do not like the decisions made by others. When it comes to someone’s personal social media feeds, they get to decide how they are managed.
When it comes to mass media or shared platforms, how they are regulated and who has influence over those decisions is a matter of negotiation and public discussion. However, the more tools that are available to individuals, the lower the pressure will be on central authorities to moderate content en masse.
Like it or not, sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter constitute unique platforms due to their popularity. It is unreasonable to simply change social media sites if the moderation is not to your liking. Cooperative moderation, such as shared block lists, is one way to increase the choices available to those using social media sites while still enjoying their functionality.
If your answer to the desire of people to avoid annoyances in their life is for them to either call the authorities, stay in their house, or shut up – that is not about free speech. That is about your own sense of entitlement to someone’s time and energy.
Ask yourself, “Who decides?”