What’s Wrong With Whitelists?

#GoodGame, but can Blockbot be a better sport?

I’ve never really battled a bot before, and it’s starting to become obvious that this is going to take longer than the nine months it’s already taken. With that being the case, I simply cannot stick to a narrative of negativity: It’s draining and also I don’t want to. So, instead of focusing on what’s wrong with the blockbot, today I want to post about what the blockbot tried to get right.

Taking a look at the GamerGa — (ooops, branding!) — I meant, the ‘Good Game’ Auto Blocker blog, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s vastly different from the github code page, in that there is at the very least an attempt to present the tool as a solution to an identified problem, instead of something for which the justification of existence is simply to “generatees (sic) a list of sheeple following more than one account [of the 4 (sic) major idiots of GG]”. The problem, as laid out on the blog by the program’s author, Randi Harper, is such:

“Twitter has a block mechanism, but a user has to initiate contact in order to be blocked. For most forms of harassment, this is an effective way of moderating conversations. Unfortunately, as more social campaigns use Twitter as their basis for communications, this approach becomes less effective. While it’s suitable for use against a single harasser, it’s useless against a large number of accounts targeting a single user.”

Let’s walk through this logically and see where it lands us. Twitter does most definitely have a blocking mechanism, AND “a user has to initiate contact in order to be blocked”. The ‘and’ is important; not least of all because we are now considering the relevance of Boolean awareness in the female programming community. Here — try reading it this way:

‘Restraining orders are a mechanism for deflecting personal contact of a harassing nature, but the Harasser must first harass an Other in order to be deemed both worthy and in need of restraint.’

Honestly, need I even finish to the point of the thought? For the sake of all that is named ‘critical thinking’, I hope to hell I needn’t — I won’t! Let us save each other’s time.

Moving on to what is basically a stated agreement to the point I’ve just barely managed to not make, and which has now twice been so unfortunately pointed out: Twitter’s built-in blocking tool is, to a large extent, effective. The second sentence of this blockbot sales pitch is that Twitter’s tool works, on the square, as well as anyone generally needs or would reasonably expect such a tool to work. Do you know why the tool that Twitter hired its engineers to build works so well? It’s because a majority of truly detestable people are so ardently, fantastically, and obviously offensive that they are not only easy to spot, but statistically few, in all relativity.

That is to say that there’s a fine line between ‘annoyance’ and ‘harasser’, indeed, but most people do not cross it, and for most everyone else who does, there’s Twitter’s in-house ‘Block and Report’ tool.

So far, we’ve identified the problem as briskly thus: For the majority of Twitter users, most forms of unwanted contact can be settled using tools developed under Twitter’s own policy, by Twitter’s own developers; however, there are some forms of overwhelming and unwanted contact on Twitter which are not so easily reported or ignored.

I think we can all agree: Nothing to see here, folks! But archeologists will try to convince you that this is only a reason to keep digging. Anyway, who doesn’t love a good unearthing of the dead? Right. So then what is the problem? I repeat, as Ms. Harper presents:

Unfortunately, as more social campaigns use Twitter as their basis for communications, this approach becomes less effective. While it’s suitable for use against a single harasser, it’s useless against a large number of accounts targeting a single user.”

Ahh, yes! Now we see: “[Twitter’s ‘Block’ option] is useless [only when and until put up] against a large number of accounts targeting a single user.”

Setting aside that nothing about the description labels this as explicitly designed to be used as an “anti-harassment” tool, let’s just think about the first non-harassment, multi-vs-single-user tweet situation that comes to mind: Celebrity praise. By programmed definition of this tool, millions of fans (a large number of accounts) tweeting (targeting) a celebrity (single user) is harassment.

However comma

Even thought I can’t really imagine what it’s like to be famous, I am active enough on Twitter to have an idea of what it must be like to filter through a large number of tweets from people whom one does not know, simply to reply to one whom one does. Not so sure? Tweet a popular hashtag and then follow up the fun by trying to find your friends in your mentions, and it’s easy to understand. Now, personally, I’ve always imagined that people of such fame have dealt with this problem in one of two ways.

One way that anyone with a desire to separate their Twitter lives has at least attempted to do is maintain a second account. It’s not easy, but it would be easier if your agent does most of the tweeting on your main account, for you. The sub-account would be a “Who’s-Who” account only, but that would also make the account susceptible to blackmail and general drama, and there’s nowhere you can go on Twitter to escape drama. Nowhere.

The other way to deal with this is something I can’t verify because I’m not verified. That is to say that it would make a lot of sense if Twitter had filter options available to verified accounts only, which allowed them to filter “fan from family”, so to speak. Unfortunately, just because I’m the most qualified, most impoverished female board member that Twitter has never appointed, doesn’t mean I know what verified accounts look like. I know, it … well, it shocks me, too.

Maybe, though, someone has a clever article on verified accounts somewhere; I’ve honestly not bothered to look. My main point — and the solution you couldn’t find in the third paragraph and never would have found in the middle of this article because, admit it, you never read anything anymore — is this:

Whether it’s already a thing for some people, or whether this is a completely new idea, Whitelists: make them, but for tweople. This has its own pitfalls — like the drama that comes from being “un-whitelisted” — but it’s ultimately better than simply shutting people out in fashion indiscriminate.

Look, I get that most people are rude some of the time, and that all of the people talking at you at one time means you’re going to hear from a lot of rude people. Welcome to Life in Public and/or Customer Service. Now that you’re over yourself, you can start to enjoy things such as: ‘Discovering Who Your Real Friends Are’, and ‘Being Taken Completely Out Of Context’. You’ll love your own rendition of ‘What The Fuck Is Wrong With People?’, and don’t forget everyone’s favorite, ‘Why Can’t I Just Have One Fucking Day?’

The answer to all of that, though, isn’t to shut people out. What’s understandable is that it’s too much at one time, and those are the times when all anyone needs the most is to just find a place to be calm and to center themselves. Sometimes you need friends to center yourself — sometimes your friends are on Twitter — and that’s okay. Randi Harper is right: No one should have to feel the need to block a massive group of people in order to simply gain clarity in today’s increasingly noisy social media world.

There. I said it.

But let’s Whitelist people instead. The Whitelist will be a list to which any user can assign, in his or her mentions, any other user. The Whitelist would essentially divide the ‘Mention/Notification’ timeline into two separate timelines: “People With Whom I Am Consistent”, and “People With Whom I Am Less Or Not At All Consistent”. We can work on verbiage later, but do you see what I mean?

Delivering the tweets that are important to each individual user doesn’t have to mean shutting everyone who isn’t relevant for the time, out. If society really wants to move toward an attitude of inclusion, blacklists and blockbots arent’t the way to go. Twitter moves markets, and people move Twitter — find me an advertising campagin that defies this. Go ahead, I’ll wait….

Seriously, I’ll just be here.

…waiting.

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