I block people on Twitter. A lot, actually. So much that I employ a browser extension that makes it easier. I’ve literally resorted to third party methods in order to streamline one of my favorite activities, that being slamming my virtual door in the faces of dickweeds.
A lot of people, many of them irrelevants, take exception to the mere prospect of being blocked. Not by friends, not by enemies, but by strangers. By anyone. The idea that someone can decide that, across the board, they are not talking to them is anathema to how they believe the world should work. If the world is fair, they argue, they should be able to talk to anyone at any time about anything through the permeable and well-oiled information super highway. Why else, they think, do we even have an Internet?
I’m here to tell you that blocking is essential and good, and that it allows us to exercise a right that nerd culture online has inadvertently eroded for decades: The right to police and curate our social circles. Much of social interaction among nerds is hung on the idea that to exclude someone from anything is an act of baseless cruelty, and that the most fair micro-society suffers literally anyone all the time regardless of what a dick they’re being. This is the primary reason nerdier subcultures have such a big problem with stealth predators and harassers that the community has allowed to flourish ignored and unchecked. We’re so desperate for everyone to be friends all the time, lest we become like Those Who Spurned Us, that we coddle dick-knobs. In trying to make our cultures safe for everyone, we effectively only make them safe for the worst people.
That’s the assumption that people try to leverage when they argue that you shouldn’t block them, that you should be forced to engage with them when they’re bothering you.
“Why won’t you debate me fairly?” they screech, wringing long-fingered hands that leave orange clouds hanging around them.
“Why do you only want to talk to people who agree with you?” they wheedle, stamping the Keds their moms bought them.
“Why can’t I yell at you with impunity?” their words say, in sum, never spoken as such but always implied under the appeals to Reason and Kindness.
This all ignores, of course, a central truth: That in what we call reality, in the physical world where screens don’t separate us, we all have the option and the right to walk away. If I’m sitting in a cafe and you wander up to me to tell me about how I’m contributing to chemtrails by drinking decaf instead of half caf, I have every right to not hear you out. You can (and should, really) walk away from weirdos at work who try to start political arguments with you.
Simply having something to say doesn’t bind an individual to hearing you. Especially when, as most blockable people do, you invade their virtual space in order to say it. Your right to say something does not equate to a right to be heard on your platform of choice by the person of your choice. Your rights coexist with the rights of others, and those rights include the right to choose one’s battles and conversations. It’s a basic individual freedom, one that should extend to online interaction.
And if you’re on the fence about blocking people who bother you, about subscribing to a block list, or whatever, consider this: Blocking isn’t a Mean act. Not wanting to talk to someone isn’t inherently cruel. Protecting your mental well-being by policing your social circle is an act of care for yourself. These shitsteaks will try to make it sound like you’re the debate floor at the U.N. and they’re poor Belize trying to get a word in edgewise, when in reality they’re usually some dong trying to dong up your day for as long as possible. They’ll try to ingratiate themselves and coast along on your flawed idea that everyone should have a chance to talk to you, but don’t be fooled. Your right to walk away doesn’t evaporate when you log on to Twitter.