Tech mogul Elon Musk is known for making impulsive business decisions concerning Twitter, the social media platform he bought for more than $40 billion last year and seems insistent on running into the ground.
So it came as virtually no surprise to anyone when on Friday he announced plans to remove the “block” feature from Twitter, which restricts users from following the public accounts of other users.
“Block is going to be deleted as a feature, except for [direct messages],” Musk said, referring to the messaging feature where users can communicate privately. “It makes no sense.”
It isn’t the first time Musk floated the idea: Several months ago, he suggested Twitter — which actually went by Twitter then, and not by “X,” his new brand name for the same product — remove the block feature in favor of a stronger “mute” feature. Mute allows users greater control over which interactions they see on their timelines, but doesn’t prevent abusive users from following or interacting with them publicly.
Aqueel Miqdad, a software engineer at Twitter (who still lists Twitter as his employer on his LinkedIn page, despite the rebrand), backed Musk’s announcement over the block feature, saying it doesn’t work as intended because users can create a new account to view posts that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
“Anyone with any intent can find out what you post by simply creating another account or logging out,” Miqdad said on Friday. (Which isn’t entirely accurate, because another recent policy change requires users to log in to a Twitter or X account if they want to view tweets — and it has been this way for several weeks.)
Daniel Rubino, the editor-in-chief of tech publication Windows Central, has another take: “Block is a form of moderation for users,” he said.
He also said removing block could do more harm than good for Twitter, or X, as a business because it would almost certainly lead to lower engagement among users, particularly those with controversial viewpoints.
“Sure, you can now mute all THOSE people, but it’s only after you read what is likely a lot of nasty stuff, which many people want to avoid,” Rubino posited. “The solution? Never look at your mentions, which reduce engagement and conversations, hurting Twitter.”
The issue might be moot in any case, because Musk has since deleted the post where he suggested removing the block feature. The reason for doing so isn’t clear — Twitter typically doesn’t respond to emails from the media (and, for a while, its press email account automatically responded with a picture of poop) — but some users pointed out that it likely has to do with policies at the Apple and Google app store that require social media platforms to provide a block feature.
“To prevent abuse, apps with user-generated content or social networking services must include…the ability to block abusive users from the service,” a copy of Apple’s development guidelines reads.
Apple has taken a particularly aggressive stance against social media platforms that turn a blind eye toward abusive content: In early 2021, it pulled Parler from its app store after users were linked to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, which meant users of its iPhone and iPad devices couldn’t download or use the service without getting creative (Apple restricts the installation of third-party apps to those available within its own app store, which is controversial on its own).
Google also takes action against apps that are considered harmful or abusive, removing problematic services from its Google Play Store, which is one of the default app directories for its Android phones, tablets, Chromebooks and smart TV devices. But its actions can have less of an impact compared to Apple, because Android devices can install apps from anywhere, not just the Google Play Store.