Let me begin by saying this: if you follow me on Twitter, please unfollow me if you wish to do so. Please. Click the button. I won’t take it to heart. I totally understand. There are times I wish I could unfollow myself. If you want to follow me just on the weekends and unfollow me during the week; that’s cool. Block me even. I probably won’t even notice. Do as you wish.
Four years ago, I planned to build a website called FriendFAQ. It would be checklist for users to state their particular habits for friending people on various social networks. Sweeping the dust off a long forgotten Google Doc that hasn’t been updated since January 2011, here was an example of the kind of information I was going to have on the site:
Who I Follow (check any)
Close friends, Family, People I know in real life, Friends of friends, Classmates, Online friends, Coworkers, Employees at my company, Commentators/Bloggers, Celebrities, Colleagues, Everyone who adds me, Everyone who @replies, Everyone who retweets me, People I want to Direct Message…
How I follow:
I try to keep my follower count under: ___ (200, 500, 1000, etc) OR I don’t have a limit to how many I follow
How often I check the website:
Active user, Somewhat active user OR Not very active
How I primarily use it:
Links, Conversation, Status updates, Anything goes
The project was a response to my frustrated uncertainty over how to define “friends” in online interactions. I thought if we all created these FAQs our elusive and often contradictory sense of what is polite behavior online might crystallize into more widely understood and shared social mores. In retrospect, it looks passive aggressive as hell. This project reveals all of my worst desire to be a people-pleaser (“I don’t have time to listen to everyone and if you are sad I’m not listening, I’m so sorry! Here are my rules that state exactly why I’m not listening to you! Don’t take it personally! Maybe we can be IRL friends but these are my rules!”)
Now I am glad I slacked on putting that project in gears. I was wrong. No one should ever feel the need to explicitly state how or why they allocate attention to others. This is a basic human boundary. The responsibility is on us not to read into things or demand attention from people who aren’t giving it.
I still feel uncomfortable about adding people on social networks. I don’t like drawing a circle around people. The absence of clearly demarcated cliques was partly why I first fell in love with the internet. Social spaces online might create less anxiety for me if they were porous like message boards and chat rooms from many years back. I have given up on thinking of my Twitter friends as a list of “people I vouch for,” or “my community” and exclusively read Twitter with private lists so my public follows reveal almost nothing about my friendships or reading habits.
This happened while I began blocking with no regrets.
Crash Override Network — the service Zoe Quinn created with a collaborator, to protect victims of online harassment — debuted on Twitter with a series of tweets including this very smart comment, “Part of our goal is to destigmatize using the block functionality on social media. We do not consider being blocked ‘harassment’.”
This might seem at first obvious, but it is critical to dialing down hostility in an online community. I routinely see users complain that they have been blocked, explaining it as being “censored” or that the user blocking them wishes to live inside an echo chamber. You’ll never know why someone blocked you. There are plenty of non-hostile reasons to use the block button, but listing all of the other possibilities is beside the point. You aren’t entitled to another person’s time and energy.
Control over what we see and control over who we interact with, is one of the few things we do have control over as developers continue to deny the preferences and boundaries of users. Respectful communities value that everyone uses the internet for their own purposes and encourage these differences.