How Twitter Could Fix Their Useless Block Function With One Simple Change

Almost two years ago I wrote a post about Twitter’s decidedly useless block functionality, that stated the reasons why this ‘block’ isn’t actually a block at all. Why? Because it doesn’t actually block anything.

Block somebody on Twitter and they can still read your timeline, send you replies and retweet your messages, giving the impression to others that you are still friends. So unless you take the rather drastic step of making your timeline completely private, which is overkill and a bad idea for most users, certainly if they want to use Twitter for business, a block is almost a complete waste of time.

The article resonated with readers, and is actually the most popular piece I’ve ever written, traffic-wise, ranking highly on Google for a number of related keyword searches. And with the news this week that a change in Californian law may force social networking sites to review their privacy policy, this is a great time for Twitter to step up, do the right thing and implement a block system that actually works.

And there’s a really simple way they could do it. In fact, all it needs is one extra checkbox in your settings.

If you visit your account settings on Twitter and scroll down the page, you’ll see this.

This is really all the privacy control you have on Twitter – you can either let everyone see your tweets, or only those people you approve up-front.

I say we need a third option: Protect my tweets from people who aren’t logged in to Twitter.

This would give an extra layer of privacy to Twitter that would be invaluable for people who wanted to use the network openly and publically, but were being prevented from doing so by trolls, stalkers, spammers and good, old-fashioned weirdos. And the reality is if you’re on Twitter long enough, and you get big and successful enough, these kinds of interactions are an inevitability.

With this option Twitter would essentially have three privacy layers:

  1. Open – Show my tweets/timeline to everybody, logged in or out, except those people I’ve ‘blocked’ (snicker)
  2. Partially Open – Show my tweets/timeline only to people who are logged in, except those people I’ve blocked (which would now work)
  3. Protected – Show my tweets/timeline only to people I’ve pre-approved

Moreover, if Twitter improved the basic block functionality to block by IP address instead of block by username – which, when you think about it, is so basic it verges on scandalous for a platform of this importance – then nobody would be able to get around the wall by simply opening another sockpuppet account. And it wouldn’t matter if you were logged in or out – you’d simply be blocked from viewing a given profile’s page. Yes, you can work around this via the use of proxy servers, but it’s another big step that would be enough to put off the majority of non-technical, problem users.

As Twitter expands around the globe and becomes an important and pivotal business tool for brands and PR mouthpiece for celebrities, control over security and privacy becomes exponentially significant. Yes, it’s a public network, and anyone expecting absolute privacy in public is probably being a little naïve, but there are shades of grey here. It shouldn’t just be black and white, on and off, open or protected. There’s plenty of room for some control in the middle, and with these new Californian privacy laws potentially coming into force, Twitter could buy a lot of goodwill by doing the right thing, and doing it now.