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Twitter backtracks on user-blocking policy after outcry

13 Dec 2013

Twitter has reacted to yet another user revolt, performing an unwilling U-turn on changes – made just hours previously – to how blocked users are handled.

Twitter's changes on Thursday afternoon meant users would not know immediately that they had been blocked, and could still view the tweets of the person who had blocked them and also mention them in tweets, although the user would not be notified about the mention. But following feedback, the micro-blogging firm has reverted to its previous policy where a blocked user will be able to tell they have been blocked, and unable to see the profile of the person who blocked them.

The company said the decision was "not ideal". "In reverting this change to the block function, users will once again be able to tell that they've been blocked," Michael Sippey, Twitter's vice president of product said in a blog post, citing "fear of retaliation" as a strong reason for making user-blocking actions harder to discover. "Some users worry just as much about post-blocking retaliation as they do about pre-blocking abuse," he continued, but admitted "we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe".

He said Twitter would now explore other options to protect users from retaliation. Despite the change, several workarounds for persistent offenders exist, including logging out or creating another account. This means the only way a user can truly protect their account is by making their timeline private, so only approved users can view it.

Twitter's 2013 has been heavily marked by its handling of the abuse scandal, which began during the summer, with many high-profile members reporting rape and death threats, with seemingly no way to instantly block their harrassers. Twitter took several months to add an instant abuse-repoting button to all of its platforms, provoking ire from politicians, the police and the general public.

Since becoming a publicly traded company in November, Twitter's response to such user feedback will be closely monitored by financial analysts, who will be nervous of any potential legal and ethical stumbling blocks that could affect the firm's reputation and share price.

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Michael Passingham

Michael Passingham joined V3 as a reporter in June 2013. Prior to working at V3, Michael spent time at computing magazine PC Pro. Michael covers IT skills, social media, tech startups and also produces V3's video content.

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