Jesus what a day.
Apparently, a couple of exceptionally popular YouTube creators were talking on Twitter about being blocked by me. Their fans grabbed their jump to conclusions mats, torches and pitchforks in hand, and went on a rampage through my mentions.
So I guess it’s time for the obligatory blog post that I don’t want to write but need to write, about how I use social media.
First off: I think I know what happened in this case. A couple months (or maybe it was weeks; in 2018, hours can feel like days) ago, a toxic YouTube personality with a large and unsurprisingly toxic following just went after me one day, without provocation. Over the years, people have tried to create the illusion of a feud with me, in an effort to get my attention and grab some free publicity to drive up views and subscriptions. I always ignore these things, because they are childish at best, and they invite a kind of negativity and vitriol that I would prefer not to have in my life. (As a side note, if someone claiming to be a social media expert pitches the fake feud idea to you, fire them and burn their contact information to the ground. That person is an idiot.)
Anyway. This person already had a following that eclipsed mine by several a factor of at least ten, so they weren’t going to gain anything if I gave them the attention they were looking for. It honestly felt like a young person who was feeling powerful and wanted to use the power of their following to make my life miserable, to entertain the shitty people who follow them. In my efforts to be empathetic to this person, I will freely admit that, when I was in my teens or early twenties, I probably would have thought that what they were doing was harmless, and that the person who was being attacked and dogpiled probably deserved it for some reason, and that they shouldn’t take everything so seriously. Thankfully, I grew up and out of that mentality.
So awhile ago, when this person turned my Twitter mentions into a goddamn Nazi rally, I did a little work to track down patient zero. I found this person, blocked their account, and then blocked their followers, so they would lose one of their attack vectors. I freely accept that a lot of innocent people were caught up in this massive blocking, and many of them are YouTube personalities (because it appears that, at some point, an explicit or implicit agreement was made among YouTubers that a lot of them would follow each other on social media. I wonder why good and decent people would follow this toxic person, but that’s on them, not on me.) In the aftermath, a lot of these YouTube personalities have, at some point, made a bunch of noise about being blocked by me. “Oh why did this happen,” they wonder, “I’ve never interacted with this guy. Please tell me, dear followers who worship me, whatever did I do to deserve this great injustice.”
Real quick: In this example, I present the imagined locutor as acting in bad faith, but can sincerely relate to that feeling. From time to time, someone I know and like RTs someone, but I can’t see it because I’ve been blocked by that person. I usually a have a little bit of a sad, because most of the time that person who has blocked me is someone I would like to see on Twitter, but I don’t pitch a fit about it, because I am a goddamn adult, and they don’t owe me anything.
I have said this on Twitter in a thread before, but I don’t think I’ve said it here: if you think you were wrongly or inadvertently blocked by me on Twitter, I’m painfully easy to get in touch with so you can ask about it and get it removed. Like, you certainly don’t have to, but you can if you want to. If you throw a fit about it and send your followers after me, you’ve made me feel like I don’t regret blocking you by accident. If you do this thing that people do where they are just asking about it and don’t really mean anything wink wink (sealioning), I don’t regret blocking you by accident. I want everyone to understand that Twitter is a mess, because Jack is a terrible CEO and doesn’t act like he cares at all about limiting Nazis, trolls, Russian bots, and other bad people. I believe that he doesn’t care because every single time someone or some group of people work hard to solve his problem (which is all of our problem) for him, he treats it like a public relations problem, not a systemic problem on the platform he runs, that is making the world a worse place due to his inaction. Because Twitter does not make it easy to manage and reduce attacks and other bad acts, we have to rely on imperfect tools like shared blocklists, extensions that help us identify and block trolls and bots, and tools that do mass blockings of an account’s followers. I’ve said many times, it’s a blunt and messy and imperfect instrument. It’s a nuclear bomb where what’s really needed is a rapier, but we go to war with the tools we have. Thanks for nothing, Jack. I hope you believe that the money you are earning is worth the damage you are inflicting on the world, and I hope you sleep really well at night.
Back to this morning. My mentions turn into this morass of anime avatars, poor grammar and racist, bigoted attacks. So, as I said above, I felt like I didn’t particularly care that I blocked these people, if this is the way the people they attract behave. If you attract a lot of bigots and trolls, you may just be a bigot and a troll, goes the math.
But that’s where I think, hey, maybe things are a little more complex than that. Because when multiple millions of people follow a person, that person can’t be reasonably held to account for everything every one of those followers does. Sure, there’s the glaring and profound exception of people who encourage and condone terrible behavior because they engage in it themselves, but most of us who have large audiences are going to end up with a few bad folks in that audience, because of math and human psychology. A few people who follow and/or know these guys reached out and said, essentially, “hey, these guys are good people and knowing what I know about you, I think you’d probably get along in regular circumstances. Please don’t let a small representation of their audience affect the way you feel about them.” I will admit and own that I can intellectually agree with that statement entirely, while emotionally struggling to be as graceful as I’d like to be in my idealized self.
Part of me really wants to unblock these people, because they seem like genuinely good people who exercised poor judgment. Another part of me doesn’t want to reward bad behavior. The biggest part of me believes that in about 18 hours nobody will care about this and they’ll go back to rolling in towers of YouTube cash, forgetting that I ever existed.
So I don’t know what I’m going to do in this instance, but since I’m spending the time writing about it, I want to make the following points very clear, so I have something to point to the next time this happens:
- I actually use Twitter and other social platforms the way people use them. I’m not a hashtag brand who doesn’t care. I’m a real person who really looks at mentions and stuff. I’ve said it before: if you cut me, I will bleed.
- Nobody is entitled to my time and attention. Yes, I block thousands of people on Twitter, because it’s that bad for me on Twitter. Yes, I block lots of people who I’ve never talked to and never will talk to. Usually, that’s because they’ve announced to the world that they’re garbage by following a garbage account that trolls and bullies and attacks people. Occasionally, it’s a mistake, and when that mistake is brought to my attention in a mature and respectful way, I do my best to correct it.
- Chris Hardwick gave me great advice that I’m going to paraphrase here. He said that when you’re interacting with a person, and your first reaction is GO FUCK YOURSELF, think about all the times you’ve wanted to unleash Hell on someone, but three or four or seven messages later, you can talk like people and move on with your lives. Hardwick says that he does his best to start out at that seventh message, so he doesn’t blow up at someone in a way he’ll regret. I do my best to follow this advice, but I admit and own that when something like tearing children away from their parents is the issue at hand, I don’t have any patience or understanding or acceptance of someone who is anything other than sickened and outraged and horrified by it. There’s never gonna be a seventh message with that person, because that person holds beliefs that are reprehensible to me. But when someone is pissed about a joke they didn’t like on Big Bang Theory or thinks I ruined tabletop gaming by making it more accessible, or has taken a friendly sports rivalry too far, it’s a lot easier to get to that seventh message.
- When Twitter treats abuse as a serious, systemic, societal issue with real consequences, and not as a public relations challenge, all of this will change. Until then, I will continue to use clumsy and blunt instruments to make my experience on the platform as nontoxic as possible. In other words, I’d love to use a lightsaber, but right now, I only have a blaster at my side.
- Remember that there’s a real person on the other side of your social media interactions. This is especially important for young people, because there is not a person alive who can hurt and be hurt like a teenager. I promise you that you’re going to get older, and you’re going to be mortified by the terrible things you did when you know that you should have known better. If I blocked SuperYouTube6969 and you think they’re the greatest thing since memes, don’t take it personally. I can assure you that it has nothing to do with you.
- Let’s all do our best to start out at the seventh message.
- If you’re a creator with a large audience, whether you like it or not you have a tremendous responsibility, and you have an incredible opportunity to decide if you’re going to use that audience to enrich yourself, or if you’re going to use the privilege you have to make the world a better place. How do you want to be remembered?
- As always, don’t be a dick.
I know there’s more I want to say, but I have a raging headache right now and what I really want to be doing is working on my novel, so that’s where I’m going. Feel free to discuss this in a non-shitty way in comments here. And if you’re one of those people who was inadvertently blocked by me, let me know so I can take a look.
Thanks for listening.
155 thoughts on “regarding blocklists, trolls, twitter’s systemic inaction against abuse, and the responsibility of wielding great power”
Hi Wil, as far as I’m aware we’ve never communicated on twitter.
I’m not a gamergate person, nazi or anything of the sort so I’m not certain how I came to be blocked.
If you find the time could you please remove @Quiltbagism from your public blocktogether list?
I tried to look at your account to unblock it (sorry about that) and I see that I am blocked by you, so there’s nothing I can do.
Its your life Wil. Live it…we are not friends, we have never met. I would never presume to put any requirements on your life. I enjoy what you do.. I think you are funny. I don’t agree with everything you say.. But hey, I am intelligent enough to make my own decision. Keep doing what you are doing.. and don’t get dragged into the mud by people who have no say in your life..
I like your response . well said
It seems like most people unanimously agree that Twitter is a toxic waste-dump of a social media outlet(both right and left of center). I just have to wonder why so many people still use it and embrace it? I have an account only because one was created for me using my email address by someone out of the country. If this had never happened I would still not be a part of Twitter. I actually dislike the fact that my email address is attached to a twitter account, but I leave it active simply to make sure that no one else can fraudulently use my email address to create an account. When I first discovered the fraudulent account I decided to try it out and followed a half dozen folks who exclusively use Twitter to announce updates, and things that interest me. But the more I interfaced with Twitter the more I disliked it, and the less I used it. Why not disengaged from the service, and lead by example to help others shed this dumpster fire from their life?
this is very interesting and a cause for self reflection–I think my Twitter account @schwarm often looks like a horrible bot engine–I re-post a ton of D&D and related content using a variety of bots and other online tools which I often fiddle with for fun and set incorrectly creating all sorts of annoying churn for me and everyone else. Often people reach out to me and let me know that my behavior is inappropriate, but I am not really sure how to respond–I see Twitter as a space where I can “fiddle” with automated tools as the become available. Of course, doing this is in direct contrast treating users as “real people”. I do not think I am being a dick, but I do think I can definitely improve my online behavior.
Thank, @wilw for taking this time for posting this.
As someone who has followed you since December 2007 this block is a fantastic wake up call.
For all of my sometimes blind stumbling around the interwebs of nets, I’m genuinely surprised (and quite happy) that I haven’t ignorantly followed some fowl person who gets me added to your block list.
While I’ve never had (and cannot humanly imagine that I ever will have) the kind of following that you do, I do recall a time when I had around 30,000 very active followers on social media -a teeny tiny microcosm of what you deal with, and honestly just from that I feel like I can see where you’re coming from when you refer to the impact of these troll armies some people seem to love around. I’ve spoken with other Youtubers who were focused on putting fun, positive things out for people’s enjoyment, and who had to literally pay persons/services to weed out negative and trolling comments on their videos just to keep them from spreading.
The internet is a harsh and often vindictive place. I’m just glad that their are still good places to enjoy sensible human perspectives that I can empathize with and often agree with (and who occasionally even challenge me to reconsider my positions or perceptions).
I think that’s an important thing for growth, and I hope you recognize that with your large following, and the way you write, you are often one of those voices that can make people at least step back and reconsider positions or ideas they haven’t before.
Thank you for continuing to wield that intellectual blade responsibly for so many years. You’re a good man @WilW.
I’ve followed accounts without looking at their timeline, after somebody retweeted one actually-funny-and-not-offensive joke that they posted… Only to be horrified later to find out that they’re actually a nasty troll that just stopped being awful for 5 seconds and it went viral. Luckily, I’ve never (that I know of) ended up on a mass block list because of it.
I’ve been tempted to do a “block all followers of awful accounts”, but I know that there are at least a handful of people on Twitter that I like, who I would miss, that seem to be hate-following some awful people (presumably just to know what they’re up to). I wonder if those tools will let you “block all followers of account X except for accounts that you follow”? This is a stupid place to ask, because I could just go and look for myself, but now I’m just typing whatever comes into my head and I can’t seem to stop.
Hey Wil, my handle is @RaptorJesuss on Twitter, in 2013 (Way before the goobershit thing) I made a joke about the LA Kings and you blocked me. I’d like to be unblocked because its affecting people who I can interact with (celebrities, social advocates, etc)
Hi! A friend sent me this article after I noticed I was blocked by you. Not sure who I followed that was the bad person, as most of the people I follow are either into personal finance, fitness, or STEM. (I really should go through and unfollow a bunch of people to make my time on twitter more enjoyable). Hopefully you’ll unblock me, @stephtheblogger? Thanks!
Hi Stephanie. It looks like you follow a lot of accounts, so you were probably caught up in a blocking of a bad account’s followers. I’ve unblocked you. Sorry about that.
Well, I totally didn’t know this was even a thing, so I’ll be darned. I’ll just lay out it down to that I do follow a LOT of folks on Twitter—even those whom I disagree with—so that’s probably where my being blocked came from, now that I am aware of your blocking practices —to each their own, of course.
I take it that means that this block list site I’ve read about is something you maybe don’t use anymore … which was my first wonder. Anyway, I hope you’ll unblock me. If not, then I respect that and will still continue to enjoy the ‘Hwil Hweaton’ and ‘DBAD’ things, your incredible narration of Ready Player One—which I’m on my 2nd listen-through—and your entertaining appearances on The Big Bang Theory.
I wish I knew how I got on your block list. Please accept my apology if I offended you in any way. My twitter handle is @mrsreffingshow.
To be honest, I think the best strategy is to completely ignore it. Even having written this post gives them attention.Don’t. It’s not worth it. The fact that they chose you as their witch at the stake should be flattering.
The main reason people feel a strong emotion towards you – such as hate, is becacuse they’re jealous of you.
Focus on the good things, such as those of us who think you’re cool and ignore the trolls. We will.
You will never be 100% perfect and that’s ok, because none of us are, so feel free to make mistakes just like the rest of us do and continue to ignore the fucking trolls.
I just installed one of the tools you suggested, “Twitter Block Chain”, so I can block all followers of a person who has been harassing me (and whose friends have cyber-stalked me and criminally harassed me, which I already reported to the police). However, when I go to my harasser’s Twitter page and click on the “Twitter Block Chain” tool and select “Run block chain”, I get the message “Navigate to a twitter following or followers page,” which I can’t do because my enemy and I both blocked EACH OTHER four years ago, so I can’t see my enemy’s followers, so how can I run the tool? Even if I unblocked my enemy (which I don’t want to do!!!!), I still would not be able to see their followers because this person blocked me the same day that I blocked them.
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