X owner Elon Musk announced that the popular micro-blogging site will be eliminating the blocking function on its platform. The billionaire, in a post on the erstwhile Twitter, stated that the block function “makes no sense” and will only be retained for direct messages (DMs). The blocking feature is an essential tool to safeguard users against unwanted attention.
This is a surprising move, especially since the block is a protective feature for users on the social media platform. Elon Musk has repeatedly positioned himself as a staunch advocate of free speech, often describing himself as a “free speech absolutist.” However, this stance is likely to draw criticism from various quarters, especially considering the rise of hate speech and harmful content on the platform since he took over. It can be argued that a lack of robust moderation and safety measures can foster a hostile environment, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities.
“Block is going to be deleted as a ‘feature’, except for DMs,” Musk said in a post, adding that X will continue to retain the mute function, which screens a user from seeing specified accounts but, unlike blocking, does not alert the other account to the action.
Block is going to be deleted as a “feature”, except for DMs
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 18, 2023
Former Twitter founder Jack Dorsey seemed to align with Musk’s choice, asserting “100%. Mute only.” However, opinions diverge among users. Some support Musk’s decision, arguing for free speech and against echo chambers. Others vehemently oppose it, emphasizing its adverse impact on user safety. The removal of the blocking feature could have a polarizing effect on X’s user base and reputation.
X CEO Linda Yaccarino defended Musk’s decision, emphasizing the company’s commitment to user safety and its intent to develop improved alternatives to the existing blocking and muting functions. “Our users’ safety on X is our number one priority. And we’re building something better than the current state of block and mute. Please keep the feedback coming,” Yaccarino posted.
The decision to remove the blocking feature could potentially pit X against the guidelines set by app stores such as Apple’s App Store and Alphabet’s Google Play. Both stores stipulate that apps with user-generated content should provide mechanisms to block abusive users and user-generated content. Violating these guidelines could result in X’s removal from these app platforms, affecting its accessibility to a wide user base.
The development also sparks fears over online safety, as the feature plays a crucial role in preventing harassment, stalking, and abuse. Unlike the mute function, which simply silences notifications, blocking stops users from interacting, viewing posts, or tracking an account. The move has prompted concerns that without an effective blocking tool, users might face prolonged harassment without recourse.