By Tom Ozimek
Elon Musk said Friday that X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, will be removing the ability of users to block unwanted followers, sparking mixed reactions and earning a Community Notes tag claiming that this is impossible due to app store guidelines.
Mr. Musk, who’s been busy revamping the platform since buying it for $44 billion last October, made the announcement in response to a question from the Tesla Owners Silicon Valley account, which asked if there’s ever a reason to block someone on the platform as opposed to simply muting them.
“It makes no sense,” Mr. Musk said of the blocking function, adding that it would be deleted as a feature but would be kept for direct messages.
A key difference between muting and blocking is that a muted account can still send direct messages to the user who initiated the muting.
Mr. Musk’s remark sparked a flurry of reactions, including a Community Notes tag claiming that Mr. Musk cannot delete the feature because the ability to block other users is a requirement for social media apps by both Apple’s and Google’s app stores and so X would be in violation of those policies and could get kicked off.
Asked for comment about the app store conditions for social media apps to have a blocking feature, X auto-replied with its customary “We’ll get back to you soon,” a standard message Mr. Musk recently changed from a poop emoji.
Many of the reactions to Mr. Musk’s announcement were critical, even by accounts that generally took a positive view of Mr. Musk’s actions with respect to the platform since buying it.
“It makes an insane amount of sense,” the @WarClandestine account wrote, offering a counterpoint to Mr. Musk’s claim that the block feature is non-sensical.
“If I don’t have a block button, my comments would be filled with bots, bad actors trying to associate me with hateful content, people trying to promote their content in my comments, NAFO imbeciles spamming with disinformation,” the account added. “Block is necessary.”
The same account heaped praise on Mr. Musk’s efforts at Twitter more generally, praising him for having “restored free speech, eliminated the wrongspeak algorithms, stifled the subtle brainwashing, circumvented the MSM, and thus leveled the playing field.”
Some others objected to the fact that Mr. Musk made the announcement without first putting it to a vote on the platform, recalling Mr. Musk’s Dec. 18, 2022, post on social media, in which he said, “Going forward, there will be a vote for major policy changes.”
Some users were sympathetic to Mr. Musk’s announcement, comparing the move to taking a stand against safe spaces.
“I think it’s getting rid of cancel culture door ways.. we are going to have to put our grown up pants on now,” wrote one user.
Mute Versus Block
Twitter’s block function has long been a way for users to take a hardline approach to managing unwanted interactions.
Blocking an account means that the user and the blocked account cannot follow each other, view each other’s tweets, or interact in any public way.
Unlike muting, which operates in relative anonymity, blocking sends a clear signal of disengagement to the blocked account, basically cutting off any form of direct (and most forms of indirect) interaction.
Blocked accounts that visit a user’s profile will see that they have been blocked. Also, users will see notifications from accounts they follow when those accounts mention the user in conversations started by a blocked account.
Muting is a subtler way to control what appears on one’s timeline and in notifications, allowing a user to silence accounts without unfollowing them or cutting off the digital connection entirely.
When an account is muted, its tweets and retweets no longer appear in the user’s timeline, with a key difference setting the feature apart from blocking is that muting an account does not impact the account’s ability to send the user a direct message. However, users will no longer receive push or SMS notifications from muted accounts.
In terms of muting, there’s a difference between muted accounts that a user follows and ones that they do not.
For muted accounts that a user follows, when the user clicks or taps into a conversation, replies from muted accounts will be visible. Also, replies and mentions by the muted account still show up in a user’s notification tap.
By contrast, for muted accounts that a user does not follow, replies and mentions don’t appear in the notifications tab, and muted accounts will not be visible after clicking or tapping into a conversation.
It’s unclear whether Mr. Musk will go through with the promised removal of the block feature as he has in the past backpedaled on promised changes.
Mr. Musk drew backlash from Twitter users after banning links to other social media platforms, prompting him to apologize and promise to put major changes to a vote.
But Mr. Musk has also made good on an array of promises, including taking Twitter’s algorithm open source and stepping down as CEO.