Why Elon Musk’s plan to eliminate the block perform on the previous Twitter may very well be its coup de grace


On Saturday, X (previously Twitter) chairman Elon Musk tweeted he could be eradicating the microblogging platform’s block perform. It will stay intact for direct messages, however would in any other case turn into out of date.

That is the most recent in a collection of controversial and sometimes complicated strikes from Musk since he took possession of the platform in October 2022. Why does Musk need to block the block perform? And what would possibly the results be for customers, and certainly the way forward for the platform?

Why block the ‘block’?

Merely, the block perform on X prevents one person from interacting with one other. With the press of a button, the blocker can deny one other person the flexibility to learn their tweets or reshare their content material.

Musk’s dislike of this function isn’t new. In June he remarked that “blocking public posts is senseless”. He has additionally condemned campaigns amongst customers to dam subscribers paying for a Twitter Blue subscription (which grants them perks resembling a blue tick beside their identify and the flexibility to edit posts).

Musk’s newest pronouncement is likely to be associated to his self-styled “free speech absolutist” persona. Final yr, after he introduced the deal to buy X (then Twitter), Musk remarked:

Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital city sq. the place issues very important to the way forward for humanity are debated.

Accordingly, Musk then restored accounts that had been banned for what earlier web site moderators categorised as harmful content material. These high-profile reinstatements included rapper Kanye West (eliminated for anti-Semitism), congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (eliminated for spreading COVID misinformation) and right-wing persona Dominick McGee (who posted youngster abuse materials).

In June of this yr, Musk publicly stated “distasteful” content material – together with tweets celebrating a migrant boat accident within the Mediterranean Sea during which lives had been misplaced – may stay on-line so long as they weren’t unlawful.

In fact, “blocking” somebody on social media isn’t the identical as eradicating their account or deleting content material. Blocking is just not censorship as that is generally understood in a social media context; it doesn’t contain, say, eradicating customers or their content material from a platform, and even shadow-banning (whereby a platform reduces the visibility of sure posts amongst numerous customers).

That stated, blocking does threaten the pugilistic mannequin of free speech Musk endorses. He has known as X the “participant versus participant” (a type of duelling mode in on-line video video games) of social media. The chance of skirmishes is diminished when “gamers” can block each other.

What would the results be?

Maybe blocking the “block” perform would enable full of life and heated (however not dangerous) debate to flourish on X. Or maybe not. As Adi Robertson writes in an article for The Verge:

Blocking gives some very tangible advantages, serving to customers (particularly high-profile ones) do something from avoiding harassment to easily cleansing up spam of their replies.

It could additionally stop publicity to hate speech, which has risen since Musk took possession. In line with the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, X “fails to behave on 99% of hate posted by Twitter Blue subscribers”. Musk has disputed the findings and filed a lawsuit in opposition to the group (an motion that sits uneasily alongside his free-speech absolutism).

The shortcoming to dam hate speech may assist normalise it and create a hostile atmosphere for folks in teams which might be typically focused, resembling ladies, LGBTQ+ folks, Indigenous folks and migrants.

X has lengthy been labelled a “hellsite” on account of the toxicity that seems on the platform. In a post-block period, it would turn into much more hellish.

What occurs past the block?

Musk has urged “a stronger type of mute” may exchange the block perform. The mute perform at the moment permits customers to keep away from seeing the actions of sure different customers – however the muted individual can nonetheless work together with the muter (resembling by commenting on their posts) in a approach {that a} blocked individual can’t.

What would “a stronger type of mute” appear to be? Musk hasn’t stated. His plans to take away the block and implement this perform appear significantly unclear when you think about he has already fired so most of the firm’s employees, together with technical workers.

Additional, each the Apple Retailer and Google Play have tips stipulating that platforms internet hosting user-generated content material should enable the blocking of different customers. Eradicating this capability would possibly result in the app shops dropping X, which may spell financial demise for the platform.

Worded otherwise, Musk would possibly reach “blocking” X from its customers completely. Or he could argue a stronger type of mute fulfils the identical necessities because the block perform.

Both approach, the indicators level to a robust chance of X turning into a very nightmarish city sq.. The Conversation

This text is republished from The Dialog beneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the authentic article.


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