The Block Bot is unsuitable for general use in its present form

TwitterReaders of this blog know that I have experience dealing with trolls and spammers on social media. One of the most popular posts on this blog is my how-to guide to preemptively blocking spammers using various Twitter clients (which is sadly in need of updating). I’ve also written on how to report suspicious emails.

Most notably, I’ve successfully helped get one user who personally threatened hundreds of people (including me) arrested by the police in Montreal – not once, but twice. (That case is still ongoing, and I may still have work ahead of me – including potentially testifying for the court case).

Back in the heyday of that person’s serial Twitter spamming, some of us would literally receive hundreds of tweets in a row from this man. Usually his account would be disabled, but he’d return with another one within minutes. Even simply hitting the block button to keep your mentions column clean became tedious because of his tenacity.

At one point Daniel Pope and I considered building an automated piece of software (often known as a bot) to automatically block his accounts on behalf of other users. That way the first person to notice each new account could block him, and then the new account would be preemptively blocked for anyone else who chose to opt in to this service. Ultimately we decided it would be too much effort aimed at just one person. I was also concerned it might run afoul of Twitter’s terms of service, and the work creating it would be for naught. Soon he was arrested and the point became moot.

Early this year something very similar to that proposed bot was actually built and deployed by an atheist in the UK. This week, it got major publicity in the UK news media, trumpeting it as a potential solution to an ongoing harassment problem on Twitter. I assume this has resulted in a flood of new users for the service.

I believe there are serious flaws in how this service is designed and operated that make it a poor solution for most Twitter users. The media, focused on the larger problem of harassment, are not covering these operational issues. I will detail them below.

The Harassment Problem

You’d have to be living under a rock to be unaware that women are routinely harassed online. The undeniable fact is that many women online and in the media are subjected to ridiculous torrents of abuse and threats via the Internet on a regular basis, for no real reason other than they are women. The media has thankfully picked up on this and made it an issue for public discussion of late.

Within the skeptic or atheist community there has been Rebecca Watson’s 2011 “elevator incident” and its fallout. Within the gaming community, Anita Sarkeesian was also subjected to harrassment because of a Kickstarter she launched in 2012. And most recently, a successful effort to get Jane Austen put onto the British 10-pound note resulted in petition organizer Caroline Criado-Perez becoming the target for harassment, and the subsequent arrest of the perpetrator. (Suffice it to say there are many other examples).

That last incident has recently catapulted the issue into the UK media, including New Scientist and the BBC web site. The author of the BBC article, Paul Mason, also filed this BBC TV report for the program Newsnight, which features the bot I’m discussing in this post:

The Block Bot

As you saw in the video above, the harassment of Rebecca Watson has inspired a technical solution similar to what Daniel Pope and I considered building during the Mabus affair. Early this year an atheist in the UK named James Billingham (known online as ool0n) built and published The Block Bot. It has a Twitter account and a web site that explains its operation. The computer source code that operates the bot is freely available for others to examine, modify or use.

The accounts being blocked are arranged into three tiers, which I will get into later. But only the “worst of the worst” (or “Level 1”) accounts are reported as spammers using the Twitter API, the other two levels are merely blocked. If you already follow someone on Twitter, they are never blocked for you.

The block bot’s website explains how it works, how you can opt in and opt out of the service, and even lists exactly which Twitter accounts are in the various levels of block list. The associated Twitter account regularly tweets updates to the bot’s behavior and so on. Between that and the fact that it is open source, that seems like a good level of transparency.

I have examined the source code of the bot, and without actually testing it myself, I can report that it does operate as described.  There are no hidden features or undocumented quirks that I can find.

But There Are Problems…

Strong technical measures like this demand strong procedures around them, to guard against abuse. They also demand a deep understanding by all involved the full scope of the measures and how to deal with them.  Despite the aforementioned transparency, I see a number of policies that are unclear and issues with how this bot is being operated.

The net effect is this bot could easily behave in ways new users don’t expect, and it could be abused. These problems are going to be exacerbated by any influx of new users via the media attention.  I’ve been observing the operation of the bot for several months, and I’ve seen evidence that these things are in fact already happening.

Problem 1: What Are The Rules?

This is the entire answer to the Block Bot’s FAQ question “Who will be added to the block list?

The short answer is anyone that a blocker defines as block list worthy. The general rule is if you are the type that would find yourself banned on a blog on, or from the A+ forum then you will likely end up in the list…

The first sentence is circular and the rest of it defers to guidelines which it does not link. It’s not clear there’s any enforceable standard here at all.  It’s clear as mud.

The core problem here is this tool was developed for specific needs of a very specific community (namely, those who identify with “Atheism+”). Therefore the operators of the bot assume knowledge or attitudes on behalf of the user base that may not be held by the average Twitter user.  Essentially, if you are good friends with Billingham and agree with him on most issues, the bot may well operate exactly the way you expect it to.  This specificity of the bot to a particular community is completely glossed over in the BBC TV report.

But for those not so familiar, they may be wondering who is running the bot and what they are doing. So that leads to the next question:

Problem 2: Who Is In Control?

The answer to the FAQ question “How are people added to the blacklist?” describes some elaborate formatting for tweets that can be sent to the bot to cause it to add names to its lists.  I’ve spoken with users who have read this answer and took it to mean that they could configure the bot for their own use using these tweets.  That’s actually not the case at all.

Those commands are specifically reserved for an “authorized user” or “blocker” – a special user who is allowed to do this.  That’s not everyone, those are the administrators of the service. (There is a special configuration file in the code that stores the names of these people).

For the operating bot, I could find no documented list of authorized blockers on the site.  It’s clear that Billingham himself and an pseudonymous person who goes by the handle “Aratina Cage” (“a rat in a cage”) do much of the administration, judging from the Twitter chatter around the bot and the comments on the website. But a Twitter search shows that some other people have been using the commands to add accounts to the list (and occasionally have been overruled by Billingham).

Wondering about this, I asked Billingham on Twitter and he volunteered that the current list of blockers includes @aratina, @Hyperdeath, @ool0n, @SpokesGay, @VitaBrevi and @Xanthe_Cat. I indicated I think it would be better practice to list these somewhere.

And remember, because of the way the Twitter API and services like this work, when they make a decision to block someone, the actual block is happening using your account credentials – pretty much exactly as if you had pressed the button yourself.  Suppose the operators of The Block Bot were to select a series of accounts to block that looked suspicious to Twitter HQ?  Twitter might take action to suspend the application (i.e. turn off the block bot), or they might take action against you, since it was your account that did the blocking.

Bottom line: the average user can’t easily find out who has authority to direct the block bot.  Therefore it’s not clear how well any policies are being enforced and so on.  This carries with it risk.

Problem 3: There Is No Audit Trail

I do computer security work in my day job, much of which has to do with the actions of users on an online service.  We live and die by our audit trail, as it is often the only way to determine what is going on.

The Block Bot has very little in the way of an audit trail. Nothing is recorded in the back-end database to indicate who told it to do something, when or why.  When commands are sent via Twitter, that could leave some evidence scraps behind.  But it can’t be totally trusted. For instance, a user could send a command to the bot, wait for it to be acted upon, then delete the tweet.

The lack of auditing means that someone could end up on the block list and there might be no good way to figure out why they were put there. To further exacerbate this, in order to not run afoul of Twitter’s anti-spamming rules, the block bot never notifies the people it is blocking directly.  So the person affected would have no way to know about the mistake so they could call it to anyone’s attention.  This combination is a recipe for disastrous abuse of the service.

(UPDATE 9:33pm h/t Jim Lippard) And it gets worse. If someone is removed from the block list, the bot cannot go around and unblock that user across the board, because it doesn’t know if a given subscriber had that user blocked on their own, or via the bot – again due to the lack of an audit trail.  As a result, even if an effective appeal procedure is put in place, it can’t undo some of the damage done by the bot.

Problem 4: What Do These Levels Mean?

As I mentioned before, the accounts being blocked are arranged into three levels of severity, described on the website as:

Level 1 is sparsely populated with “worst of the worst” trolls, plus impersonators and stalkers. Level 2 (which we recommend for general use) includes those in Level 1, plus a wider selection of deeply unpleasant people. Level 3 goes beyond The Block Bot’s main purpose, and expands the list to include those who aren’t straight out haters, but can be tedious and obnoxious.

Like the previous issue with who gets blocked, this text is entirely unclear to me. Who defines “deeply unpleasant” or “tedious and obnoxious”?

There is a much more verbose description that appears only when you visit the page where you actually sign in to the service, that currently reads as follows:

→ Level 1 blocking: this blocks only the worst of the worst. These are the really nasty ones.

Both “sides” across the Deep Rifts™ will hopefully agree these need to be blocked.

Accounts that spam extremely abusive messages to people with the intent only of hurting them with not a hint of “disagreement”.

D0x’ers who want to drop information on fellow atheists in order to scare them off the internet or have real life effects on their well-being.

Stalkers that create sock-accounts to inject themselves into your time line to get a response from you or imposters pretending to be you.

→ Level 2 blocking: these are the abusive subset of anti-feminists, MRAs, or all-round assholes who think nothing of tweeting their much loved photoshopped pictures, memes and other wonderful media directly into your timeline to get attention (Listen to Meee!!1!).

This level also includes the “parody” accounts, if you have better things to do with your life than “disagree” on Twitter with a parody of yourself that seems to have suffered a frontal lobotomy.

Level 2 blocking includes all members of level 1.

→ Level 3 blocking: these are the merely annoying and irritating Twitterers who trot out the A+ arguments to avoid at a moment’s notice, and show no signs of giving them up until you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

Given that is not a practical option, how about blocking them and avoiding tedious exchanges?

This is the 100% frozen peach option… These from time to time leap to level 1/2 so why take the risk?

Level 3 blocking includes all members of levels 1 and 2.

This is a bit clearer,  but still quite confusing. It uses a number of terms that are not defined here (such as “Deep Rifts”, D0X, MRA and frozen peach) and scare quotes on some terms to further confuse the matter.  (Yes, I’m fully aware of what those terms mean, but is everyone?).  Again here the tool suffers from having been coded for a specific community for whom this text probably makes more sense.

But I feel a general Twitter user will be confused here and probably make the wrong choice.  I know I am not familiar with the norms of Atheism+, and I can’t fully interpret the above text.  For instance, what do they mean by parody accounts?  Some parody accounts on Twitter are the most entertaining on the service – surely they don’t mean those?  The jargon does not help.

Also, do note this comment near the bottom:

These from time to time leap to level 1/2 so why take the risk?

The implication is that users of the bot would be best served by blocking all three levels. (That will become important later).

Problem 5: Blocks Have Consequences

Blocking and reporting for spam on Twitter absolutely have consequences for the reported account including potential suspension. The Twitter help on spam clearly indicates that suspension can result from reporting. In our campaign against Mabus’s spams, we definitely saw an effect on his accounts from people hitting block or report.

Last year when Twitter launched an aggressive anti-spam effort a number of atheists who were suspended erroneously decided they had been targeted in some sort of malicious campaign. As I wrote in that blog post, Twitter had recently written in their own blog that they had implemented new automatic technical measures against spammers which I explained had caught the atheists affected.  Twitter also wrote in that post:

You can help out, too, by reporting and blocking spammers you encounter on Twitter.

This is further evidence that reporting and blocking feeds into Twitter’s automated algorithms. Twitter’s own response to the recent related #ReportAbuse campaign also mentioned automated algorithms:

While manually reviewing every Tweet is not possible due to Twitter’s global reach and level of activity, we use both automated and manual systems to evaluate reports of users potentially violating our Twitter Rules. These rules explicitly bar direct, specific threats of violence against others and use of our service for unlawful purposes, for which users may be suspended when reported.

In my day job, I work at a firm that sends millions of emails every week, and I work with anti-spam measures almost daily. Anti-spam algorithms are usually automated as much as possible, and never openly published, to avoid efforts by spammers to evade them. This is just the way it is done, as it is a constant escalating battle of techniques with spammers.

And so, nobody outside Twitter knows precisely what factors are used to decide to suspend an abusive or spammy account and how they are weighted.

Billingham has repeatedly stated that he has carefully designed the block bot so that it will not result in Twitter automatically suspending an account that has been put in Level 2 or Level 3.  People challenge him on Twitter about this regularly, and his answer is always the same. But because he does not work for Twitter, all he can be basing this on are his own limited experiments.

The fact of the matter is Billingham cannot know for sure whether his efforts to avoid suspending anyone were successful.  His bot may well be damaging the accounts of people reported in some internal Twitter scoring system, resulting in eventual action by Twitter.

But these are just anonymous trolls that deserve it, right?  Well, some are. That leads to my final point:

Problem 6: Inappropriate Blocks, Especially for Anyone Unfamiliar with Atheism+

The final and most important problem with the bot is the end result of all of the above, as implemented.  The community needs of this very specific group (“Atheism+”), combined with the lack of auditing and transparency of control, has resulted in some (in my opinion) very strange choices. I am familiar with many of the people in these communities.  I know many of them in real life as well as online.  Scanning the list of Level 2 and 3 blocks makes me repeatedly scratch my head in puzzlement.

I’m not going to get into exact names here, as I do not want to discuss the pros and cons of blocking particular people.  That is not a productive line of discussion.  The bottom line is that if the users of this bot (or any Twitter user) want to block these people, that is their right.

And I will agree with that piece of text quoted above that implies that most would agree that the people blocked in Level 1 deserve that status. I scanned some of these accounts, and some I have seen before, and they are pretty heinous offenders.  No argument there.

However, just a casual scan down the list of Level 2 and Level 3 blocks reveals people, many of whom I know personally, who are deeply involved in the atheism, skepticism, secularism and humanism movements all around the world.

Editorial Note: It has come to my attention that the struck out section below was taken to mean a great deal more than I intended by some readers. I regret that misunderstanding. I’m very busy at my day job this week, and don’t have time for a follow up blog yet – look for that next week. But I addressed the complaints on Virtual Skeptics Episode 51 on Wed Aug. 7. It is also embedded at the end of this post, cued up to my section.

They include:

  • A Research Fellow for a U.S. think-tank who is also deputy editor of a national magazine, and author of numerous books
  • A Consultant for Educational Programs for a U.S. national non-profit
  • A long-time volunteer for the same national non-profit
  • An organizer for a state-level skeptic group in the US
  • A past president of a state-level humanist group in the US
  • A former director of a state-level atheist group in the US
  • An Emmy and Golden Globe award winning comedian
  • A TED Fellow
  • Co-founder of a well known magazine of philosophy and author of several books
  • A philosopher, writer and critic who has authored several books

These are not anonymous trolls. They are not likely to be arrested anytime soon. Most of these people regularly speak at national conferences to audiences from several hundred to over a thousand people.  Starting from the publicly available block list you can click the names to go directly to their  Twitter feeds, I see little evidence that these people are attacking, threatening or spamming anyone.

Now I’m not dumb, I know that many of these people have had very public disagreements with people allied with “Atheism+” who use this bot.  And let me reiterate: if people want to block others that they disagree with, that is their right.  

But these well-respected people are being listed right alongside some vicious troll accounts, and not being clearly distinguished from them. And remember where I talked about consequences of blocking above? These people may suffer these consequences right alongside the vicious trolls.

None of the recent promotional items regarding The Block Bot (BBC, New Scientist) have made this distinction clear. In fact, Billingham smiles and agrees in the video (at 2:24 elapsed time) when the BBC journalist chooses only to block Level 1.  Levels 2 and 3, although briefly seen on screen, are never described in the report.  (Billingham says an explanation was filmed but cut).

Regardless, the report as run gives an impression that runs counter to the previously noted verbiage on the website which encourages users to go all the way to level 3. On Thursday, a short video update to the report ran on BBC where Gavin Esler and Paul Mason discuss the three levels and how some people feel they’ve been unfairly included in the level 3 list.

I would also point out that as I write this Level 1 contains 85 names while Levels 2 and 3 contain a total of 566 names.  If vicious harassing trolls are the true purpose of this, why are they a comparative minority of the names listed?

One of the consequences of blocking that I didn’t mention earlier is the ability for these people to be discovered through Twitter retweets.  If I like some content and retweet it to my followers, they get exposed not only to that content but to the identity of the user I’ve retweeted.  It looks like this on the web:

VirtualSkeptics retweeting WhatsTheHarm

Suppose you don’t yet follow @WhatsTheHarm but you do follow @VirtualSkeptics, and you see the above.  That’s a great opportunity to learn about a useful Twitter feed you might want to follow.  But if one of the bot operators had decided to Level 3 block @WhatsTheHarm because of some disagreement, you’d never get this opportunity. And it could be due to a disagreement of which there is no record and which you were not party to.  That’s a loss of a powerful feature under very poor circumstances.


I cannot recommend this online tool for anyone who is not already very closely allied with the Atheism+ community and/or personal friends with Billingham, “Aratina Cage” or the other blockers. It is not suitable for general use, and I would recommend Twitter users avoid it.

If you have already used the service, because of the opportunity for abuse I would strongly recommend you go to the app settings page on Twitter and revoke its access to your account. If you must use it, only enable Level 1 blocking.

Problems that need attention include:

  • Improve the online documentation, remove the jargon and slang
  • Clearly differentiate the blocking levels on the site, and segregate the name lists so that people blocked on mere preference are not listed on the same page as vicious troll accounts
  • Consider removing the current Level 3 blocks entirely, or at least time-limiting them to reduce their effect
  • Document who the administrators of the bot are and provide ways to contact them (including ways outside Twitter)
  • Create clear procedures for adding/removing people from the bot and hold administrators to them
  • Have a clearly documented appeal procedure and procedures to deal with rogue administrators
  • Require administrators to supply a reason or piece of evidence (e.g. a tweet) for any add
  • Notify accounts that are being blocked so that they have an opportunity to appeal
  • Implement an audit log to support the above procedures

Because this code is open source, the opportunity exists for a third party to implement the above and to create competing bots.  There may be some value in doing so and doing a better job of targeting the “Level 1” type trolls. (The Block Bot currently only has found 85 of these, which seems like a very low number to me when you consider the number of accounts on Twitter and the breadth of the harassment problem).

Personal Comment

Just as I was eventually dubious of the value of an anti-Mabus bot, I’m dubious of the long-term prospects for The Block Bot (or derivatives thereof).  I have three reasons for this pessimism.

First, Twitter has been notoriously fickle in changing policies related to various software which accesses their platform.  This has clobbered skeptic projects before, like the anti-pseudoscience chatbot which got killed by spam rules.  One of the reasons I’ve not written about this bot until now is that I’ve long been expecting Twitter to cut it off as a violation of their automation policies (specifically: mass unfollowing).  It remains to be seen if the media attention causes Twitter to take action.

A second looming problem for The Block Bot is it may become a victim of its own success. If it attracts a large number of users based on this media coverage, it may not be able to keep up with the requests without running afoul of Twitter’s API rate limits. (Request: If you have read this far and plan to comment, incorporate the word “bananas” into your comment. Thank you.) Overcoming the rate limit problem would require a serious amount of engineering work to make the software more scalable. I’ve looked at the current code,  and it runs with simple text files and a single thread. It is just not scalable to thousands of users and thousands of blocks without serious work.

A third looming problem is the #ReportAbuse campaign itself.  If Twitter is successful in responding to the requests to report abusive users, there soon may be no need for The Block Bot.  I do hope Twitter continues to address this with real solutions – we could have used it during the Mabus battle.

Update August 2: Fixed the redundant numbering of problems. DOH. 

Update August 8: Here’s me addressing some complaints, particularly about the section titled “Problem 6” above, on Virtual Skeptics. It should skip right to my segment, but if it doesn’t scroll it to 34:28 in the episode.

Please Note – Unless you are a frequent commenter here, you are likely to be moderated at first. Off-topic and uncivil posts will not be released. Posts about specific people who are listed by The Block Bot will not be released.  Posts in which it is clear you skipped to the bottom to comment without reading the post may not be released. Please play nice, we’re all adults.

85 thoughts on “The Block Bot is unsuitable for general use in its present form

  1. sgerbic

    Wow Tim, I’ve heard about this twitter blocking thing months ago, but until reading this, didn’t understand what they were talking about. I guess I don’t spend enough time on twitter, and didn’t understand most of the slang. It looks like I’m not missing out on anything.

    I’m all for blocking spam, it is annoying. I do what I can on my own email accounts, but you just deal with it. Its free after all, so is twitter.

    Thank you for your well though out analysis, many times people do not look at the repercussions of their actions, nor try to see it from other angles. It looks like this could easily be abused and harm real reputations.

    As far as level 3 people, if you are having a problem with someone and don’t want to block them, maybe you should pick up the phone and actually talk to them. Our community is too small for this division. We don’t all have to agree, but we should be able to remain adults.

    Oh by the way… Bananas

  2. The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot)

    Yup that’s why I suggested on Newsnight that Paul signs up to Level1, unfortunately the bits describing L2/3 and how they are community specific were cut out. Glad you appear to agree Level1 is fine – your title could do with amending as I see no reason not to block the nasties on L1 which is what most ppl sign up to anyway.

    So I’ll take your recommendation to be unsuitable *unless* you use Level 1. But given many think it is suitable on L2/3 I’d add if you are in the A+ community / dislike Slymepitters and don’t mind some random ppl being blocked / dislike TERFs and SWERFs and don’t mind some random ppl being blocked or dislike MRAs and don’t mind some random ppl being blocked — then its suitable for you. Anyone you don’t want blocked… Follow them!

    Key thing to remember is this was created for a particular community and is therefore full of the people 10 blockers from that community added. Most blockers are A+ people, some are trans* folk blocking TERFs/SWERFs. I don’t want to unleash a troll horde on anyone (The overt blockers I mentioned to you and are in your post are open already) and the main issue is do the users agree with the people in the level they sign up to? Seemingly many do, so I don’t know if I’ll publish the list of all blockers on the website as it’ll bring them grief.

    Few points.
    1. About the audit, that is not true of the latest version. I haven’t put on github yet – but it does log who added who. Not convinced this is necessary as I trust the people added as blockers.
    2. Also asked everyone to add an offending tweet if they can, fake accounts or ones called “Adolf Hitler”, as I blocked recently, don’t really need explanation.
    3. As you say its open sourced so fork your own! Saves me the trouble of adding new features that I have no time to implement, I can nick them off you.

    Final bit on “annoying” –> @thehashspamkiller + @hashspamkiller1/2/3/4/5 are ran from the bot list, this retweets conference hashtags without the inane drivel from @ElevatorGATE and his obsessed pals. So many are unfortunately in there for retweeting their crap on conference hashtags … Definitely annoying as I don’t want to have to undo retweets during conferences. Minor infraction but many on L3 are saying they are not “just annoying” but have been labelled as Hitler and Stalin all in one by A+ or me personally. Sorry to disappoint.

    1. verklagekasper

      Hi ool0n! Since you didn’t answer this on Twitter, once again:
      Have all users authorized you to use their accounts not only for blocking but mass-spam-reporting to get accounts suspended?

  3. elevatorgate

    This is a very thorough and useful analysis. I think it’s bananas there’s no audit trail, it is a flaw. You are absolutely right that people have a right to block who they want, and for some peope, James Billingham’s block bot is a useful tool. I think there are some level 1 people who may be infantile and crass, and it’s rather distinct from rape-threat territory. Again, without getting into specifics.

    I think that if Billingham introduces an audit trail it could be really useful. Maybe people could even donate and help support it, if it’s useful to them.

  4. The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot)

    Bananas – missed the scalability bit… I am a performance architect by trade and it will handle nearly 2,000 users before it misses its 15 minute time window. I estimate! After that it just takes longer to apply the blocks… So then it depends on the rate of new users who have to catch up with hundreds of blocks and the rate new blocks are added. (For example it currently has hundreds of users, not thousands, and takes at most a few minutes to apply the 15 blocks per user per 15 minutes the API allows)

    As for multithreading it… I’ve already thought of that and it would be trivial. The server requirements are tiny as nearly all the time spent is waiting for the REST API to respond. So having 2/3/4 threads and 4K/6K/8K users is not at all impractical on even an EC2 micro instance.

  5. Barbara A. Drescher

    As you saw in the video above, the harassment of Rebecca Watson has inspired a technical solution similar to what Daniel Pope and I considered building during the Mabus affair.

    Except the bot wasn’t (by all appearances) in response to elevatorgate. It’s called the “Atheism Plus Block Bot” and it was launched quite a long time after elevatorgate. Rebecca is not affiliated with A+. If anything, I’m thinking that it was probably “inspired” by bananas.

    If Twitter is successful in responding to the requests to report abusive users, there soon may be no need for The Block Bot.

    Of course, this assumes that blocking such users is the goal as stated. Charity says we should assume that’s the case, but I have my bananas, I mean doubts.

    Regardless, thank you for writing this. It’s fair (more fair than my comments here) and I hope it gets as much attention as the bot has.

    1. Nathan Hevenstone

      Blocking is indeed the goal. I’ve not yet seen any user (myself included), call for these people to be removed from Twitter. I, for example, encourage them to use Twitter! I wholeheartedly endorse their use of Twitter! Have all the Twitterfunz!

      I just don’t want to read their tweets, so I blocked them with the Block Bot.

      1. Steersman

        I’m on there at level 3. Any particular reason why you would want to block me?

        Maybe it’s kind of a bad idea to let others do your thinking for you?

      2. Nathan Hevenstone

        Again, you can override the BlockBot when you want. Indeed, I have in a number of instances. I don’t remember if you were one of the people I unblocked. And I’m not able to speak for those who’d want to block you.

        I found that the BlockBot blocked everyone I wanted to block, and anyone I didn’t want to block I’d just re-follow.

      3. Steersman

        Are you telling me then that you’ve gone through all of those 600-odd (I think) names on those 3 lists to see whether it blocked someone you didn’t want it to do that to?

        But maybe, probably, I don’t yet understand all of the nuances associated with Twitter. For instance, I sort of gathered that unless you’re actually following someone there’s no way for their tweets to show up on your timeline or inbox. And if that is the case then it would make more sense to simply unfollow them – which, presumably, the BlockBot could do as well.

      4. Steersman

        That still doesn’t answer my (implied) question – maybe I need to be more explicit: is it or is it not the case that you only see the tweets from those you’re following? And if that is the case then why don’t you – or the blockbot – just unfollow those tweeting you who tweet you with comments you no longer wish to read? Why is there even a necessity for a block function in the first place?

      5. Nathan Hevenstone

        You can still see tweets that directly mention you and/or people you follow. I don’t want those tweets, either. Am I not allowed to make that decision for myself by using the tools available to me? Is that a crime?

      6. Steersman

        Not a crime, and I hadn’t said it was. All I said was, and I quote, “maybe it’s kind of a bad idea to let others do your thinking for you?” And the thinking of the blockbot moderators seems rather bigoted, and heavily influenced towards judging others by association – and on the most tenuous grounds.

        You might wish to reflect on this observation of J. S. Mill – particularly since you seem to have some interest in fanaticism – and in Hitchen’s YouTube video (1) on it as well:

        But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error … We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

        You that worried about seeing comments that might conflict with your current set of beliefs?

        1) “_”;

  6. elevatorgate

    Forgive me, one other very important point is that at the time of the newsnight broadcast, the list of level 1 blockers were presented in a table, with each user having a “kred” like scour (à la Klout)
    A reader may have inferred that those with higher scores are more violent or criminal. I think that was bananas and I’m glad to see Billingham has changed it.
    (One can see a cached version of the relevant page to verify this)

  7. Reed Esau

    If this Block Bot service is being advertised as a means to block abusive trolls who are issuing threats and remains consistent with that goal, it stays within the bounds of Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS). More power to them.

    However, if it is ALSO being used to attack non-troll critics of atheismplus by casting them in league with the trolls in order to damage reputations, then it has crossed a line into misrepresentation and deception. IMO, it’s in violation of the TOS.

    1. skep tickle

      I’m listed among the Level 2 crowd by The_Block_Bot, but any claim that I’m an abusive troll is simply bananas. “Non-troll critic of atheismplus” and some parts of Freethought Blogs? Yes, that’s a reasonable description, though I think “skeptic” pretty much covers that part.

      There’s probably not a very high bar to be added to Level 2/3; for example, it appears to include everyone who regularly posts on the Slymepit, some of whom have never spent time at atheismplus sites and rarely if ever use their twitter accounts, and certainly not to harass anyone. Perhaps the Slymepit denizens happened to be collected one by one, by simply adding twitter followers of ‘suppressive persons’, and their followers, and so on – or possibly the nyms posting at the Slymepit were sought out on twitter and added to The_Block_Bot as they were found. At any rate, one person on the Pit, who uses his Twitter account for work under his real name and is listed by The_Block_Bot, has already spoken with a lawyer about his inclusion in Oolon’s list.

      Oolon certainly knows some of the dangers of “guilt by association” – he was banned from Pharyngula for a time for having spent time at the Slymepit. The_Block_Bot may be one of his attempts to curry favor with ‘atheism plus’ and Freethought Blog leaders.

      Finally, whether or not a motive of The_Block_Bot is “to damage reputations” may be difficult to determine, but even without that I’d say “it has crossed a line into misrepresentation and deception.” Many, many of the people whose Twitter accounts are listed are NOT guilty of being abusers, harassers, vicious, or trolls – though states that’s who it blocks.


  8. iamcuriousblue (@iamcuriousblue)

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, especially with regard to Problem 5. The Block Bot, for the most part, is an ideological blacklist. (I haven’t taken a close look at Level 1 and what those people have done, but I’ll take your word that these are genuine undesirables who really should be on a block list.) I’m somewhere on the Level 2 or 3 myself, and I got there by *volunteering* to be on it. Many of people who subscribe to BB aren’t the kind of people I want following me around the internet, so I saw that as an effective way to cut them off. But it also shows just how subjective and partisan this list really is – in my estimation, Aratina, Oolon, and their buddies are the “trolls” who I want no part of.

    I fully acknowledge the right of the A+ faction to block whoever they want, and as I said, I volunteered for it. My issue, however, is with these recent attempts to generalize BB into tool for general internet users. Now people who don’t have a dog in the “Atheist/Feminist Wars” are going to preemptively block and assume the worst about those of us on the BB list based on the fact that we’re on a list of supposed “misogynists”, and on a list with some genuinely malicious people (Level 1) of which, apparently, those of us on Level 2 and 3 are just slightly less bad version. When generalized like this, BB becomes, in effect, a neo-McCarthyist blacklist, ironically fostered by those on the far Left of the political spectrum, but functionally very much like the notorious Red Channels list of the McCarthy era.

    To be fair, Oolon, above, is now trying to clarify that Levels 2 and 3 are specific to A+ and the “social justice” crowd, but the damage is being done, and Oolon himself has spent quite a bit of time spreading defamatory guilt-by-association toward those on all levels of BB on a number of internet forums.

    All of this is an extension of one of the more objectionable rhetorical devices I’ve heard coming from Rebecca Watson and the like, and that’s the conflation of those that have carried out genuine harassment with those who are simply critical of their ideas and actions. Disagree with them, and you’re a “misogynist troll” and any and all criticism is part of a “campaign of harassment” against them as outspoken women. Never mind these people have had said and done quite a few things that reasonable people might find strongly disagreeable, and that is as worthy of criticism as anything said by a controversial public figure. In many cases, the reality of online misogyny is being misused as a shield to deflect legitimate criticisms.

  9. Beleth (@beleth_skeptic)

    Realtime blacklists (RBLs) such as this Block Bot have been around for decades, but primarily in the context of blocking email spammers. The early ones were crude and opaque, and spammers got around them by sending mail from new host names and IP addresses. That was a fairly trivial workaround for the spammers, but it did cost a bit of money and a few minutes of time.

    Applied to Twitter, it’s even cruder, and the workaround is even more trivial since creating a new Twitter account is free. It also has a new disadvantage: RBLs applied to email could be applied at the organization level, so individual email users didn’t have to worry about setting it up themselves. With Twitter, all the work has to be done by the individual, and that costs time and money which could be better spent on shopping for food items such as bananas.

    My point is that even though this was an admirable first attempt, the reality is that this solution was obsolete even before it was written. There are better ways to solve this issue. The best solutions will involve new ways of looking at the problem, possibly by answering the question “what can be done to make trolls not want to troll?”

  10. Pingback: Block Bot, #ReportAbuse and a Twitter ‘panic mode’ | Towards a Free Society

  11. verklagekasper

    Contrary to what suggests, the Block Bot does NOT only block. A view in the Block Bot sources reveals that it uses not only the Twitter API command ‘blocks/create’ but also ‘users/report_spam’:

    if ($is_spam){
    $connection->post(‘users/report_spam’, array(‘user_id’ => $x_users_to_block[$x]));
    log_it(“INFO”,”SPAM BLOCKED USER : “.$x_users_to_block[$x].” FOR USER “.$current_user);
    } else {
    $connection->post(‘blocks/create’, array(‘user_id’ => $x_users_to_block[$x]));
    log_it(“INFO”,”BLOCKED USER : “.$x_users_to_block[$x].” FOR USER “.$current_user);


    Whereas “blocks/create” is the Twitter API command to block a user, “users/report_spam” does not only block a user but also report the user as a spam account to Twitter (
    The difference is vital: When you mass block someone, this usually doesn’t mean that his account gets suspended. However, when you mass spam report someone, this most likely DOES get his Twitter accound suspended. To send an account into Twitter Nirwana, all the bot’s administrators have to do is send a message to the Block Bot including the account name of the user, eg. “+bananas”, and the hashtags “#level1” and “#spam” (instead of “#block”, which would yield mere blocking)., particulary the signup page, does not mention this feature, suggesting that the bot would only block. None of the Block Bot users have authorized the bot to spam report in their name. They are not even aware of this feature. It’s a backdoor functionality that can be used by the bot’s administrators to suspend any Twitter account that is not to their liking, by mass spam reporting the account through the remote controlled Twitter accounts of the bot’s users.

    1. Tim Farley Post author

      Thanks, I had seen that code but I realized after posting I was unclear on who gets reported for spam.

      On suspensions, I state in the post that only Twitter knows the precise combo of blocks, reports and other factors that will trigger a suspension. Public speculation on how that actually works is just that – pure speculation.

      1. verklagekasper

        That’s true, only Twitter knows what exactly happens. Fact is though that ool0n has been trying to get accounts suspended that way. Search on Twitter for “the_block_bot #block #level1 #spam”, with quotation marks.
        The Tweets with “#level1” and “#spam” (instead of “#block”) are the ones that trigger the spam reporting instead of blocking.
        Right the first entry I see there, “@ayekayesa”, is suspended.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure that each and every one of those deserved it (so far).

        However, the block bot admins haven’t been legitimated to do that, there is no sort of democratic process controlling their actions.
        But what is most problematic is that the mass-spam-reporting feature is not documented on the block bot side. People signing in are not told that the bot spam reports. In fact, the FAQ is OUTRIGHT LYING as it denies the presence of that feature:

        “No one will be blocked and reported as spam. The users of the block list would need to do this themselves for real spam accounts -> so it will NOT CAUSE accounts to be suspended. It is true that if any account is reported for spam then these blocks being applied will likely figure into Twitters spam algorithm -> but the bot will not be the cause, at worst a contributory factor.”

      2. Tim Farley Post author

        “Fact is though that ool0n has been trying to get accounts suspended that way.”

        Verklagekasper – have you psychically read ool0n’s mind? How can you possibly know this? Please supply some evidence.

        I find it is never a good idea to try to guess what other people’s motivations are, absent clear statements from them.

      3. verklagekasper

        There is a clear statment now, see below:

        The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot) says:
        August 2, 2013 at 9:04 am
        “As for the aim to suspend accounts, yes when they are threatening or spam accounts.”

  12. Randy

    Thanks for your thorough analysis. It’s the sort of work that you might expect, say, a BBC television journalist to do prior to reporting. But I guess that’s bananas.

    I’m intending to out-live Twitter.

  13. Ted Dahlberg

    Thank you for an interesting blog post. It was level-headed and not bananas at all.
    I had a look and found that I am a level 3 undesirable. I can only assume this is because I occasionally comment on the Slymepit (mostly silly stuff of no consequence). Because on Twitter I have never interacted with anyone I didn’t already know, except for a handful of tweets at a couple of podcasters. I have made a grand total of 53 tweets, and I invite anyone to take a look at them to find anything very objectionable. I tweet under my real name. I believe I have one retweet of a picture vaguely related to someone barely connected to A+, otherwise I avoid internet drama, thank you very much.
    I therefore have to presume that it is my mere existence that is tedious and obnoxious.

  14. The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot)

    For some reason I cannot reply to posts – asks to login! Anyway, reporting for spam, only occurs when the person is added to #level1 AND #spam is added to the command. So applies to no one here.

    The idea that you can suspend accounts is bullshit, maybe if they have @’d people who then report them for spam. That is much less likely to happen with automated blocking as its not in response to a thread of conversation like most blocking. Otherwise they don’t go and that’s backed up by the tiny number of accounts suspended shortly after being added to the block bot. Ones I’ve seen have been new ones with few followers @’ing users of the block bot –> ALWAYS level1 remember, so being abusive.

    Incidentally the Slymepit with 100’s of members and other Tweeps have organised blocking and reporting for spam of @the_block_bot… Nice they stick to their principles and don’t false flag! It did get suspended, but for me following too many people back not for being reported (Twitter tell you the reason). So the ability to suspend accounts is mostly myth IMO, I’d bet most get suspended for aggressive following or tweeting too much and jailed.

    Tip: Tweet often with no @ in it, they use the ratio of @tweets to ones to no one in their algorithm. You can see spammers doing this all the while, keeps them online.

    1. verklagekasper

      “The idea that you can suspend accounts is bullshit”

      Then why use ‘users/report_spam’ for the hard cases instead of ‘blocks/create’ in the first place? Oh, perhaps because it isn’t bullshit. From the last 20 accounts that received your special #level1 + #spam treatment, 14 are suspended now. That’s 70%. Just coincidence? Bullshit?

      For that matter, you are lying in your FAQ about the spam reporting: “No one will be blocked and reported as spam”
      Well, at least 20 of those “no ones” have been blocked and reported as spam just during the past three days.

    2. Tim Farley Post author

      The idea that you can suspend accounts is bullshit, maybe if they have @’d people who then report them for spam. That is much less likely to happen with automated blocking as its not in response to a thread of conversation like most blocking.

      Ool0n, I’m getting the distinct impression that you did not read this blog post at all. As I said in the post, unless you actually work for Twitter, you cannot know that for sure. Period. You may have some experiments that seem to indicate that, but only Twitter knows for sure how their automated suspend algorithms work.

      1. Barbara A. Drescher

        I’d really like to get snarky here, but I’ll do my best to avoid that.

        Part of the problem I have with the BBC reporter is that he asked Ool0n why Twitter doesn’t use his tools. It says something to me that he received an answer other than, “I don’t know. I’m not Twitter.”

        Usually, at least in the U.S., when a reporter seeks a comment and doesn’t get one, they say as much. I didn’t hear anything like that, so I assume he didn’t bother to ask them.

  15. The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot)

    @Ted Dahlberg, can none of you read? Level3 is the “merely annoying and irritating Twitterers” … Hardly a smear but whatever cross you want to build for yourself.

    Most of the Slymepit is in level2, probably not you because of your lack of activity. I personally think only assholes would support that place you post silly stuff for the lulz to and hang out with these people –

    BTW If you decided I was an asshole for posting at the A+ forum and supporting A+ … I’d have no problem with it, your opinion. Your pals at the Slymepit like to label everyone who complains about their abuse “professional victims”. The whining from them about “libel” for being labelled “annoying” is beautiful irony.

    1. John C. Welch

      Oh oolon. How about the accounts you block not because they have ever made a single “bad” tweet, indeed, they’ve never tweeted anyone you’d even know or interact with, but rather because they follow someone you dislike?

  16. The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot)

    Correction: After reading @verklagekasper’s comments about the spam function I realised the FAQ doesn’t reflect this. Previous version of the bot had one level and no #spam ability so an oversight in updating the FAQ. Done now.

    Hardly hidden though as I’ve tweeted in the open to all the blockers about this, told multiple people on all sides that this is the case and any addition to #level1 #spam has it right there in the tweet!

    As for the aim to suspend accounts, yes when they are threatening or spam accounts. Remember this is #level1 and we encourage our users to report those accounts to Twitter as well… Its pretty much useless in getting them suspended or if they are the account is back in minutes and Twitter have never taken an account offline. Ones threatening, ones doxxing, none banned. Always get the reply that they are “within the rules”. I think the suggested “Report Abuse” button will be similarly ineffective when no level of nastiness is against the rules.

    1. verklagekasper

      “Hardly hidden though as I’ve tweeted in the open to all the blockers about this, told multiple people on all sides that this is the case and any addition to #level1 #spam has it right there in the tweet!”

      Yeah, you posted it anywhere but at the places where it was required, ie. the signup page and the FAQ. But hey, why confuse the users with accurate information on what the bot is actually doing. You’re on a mission, and there are still so many women left who refused the A+ dogma and need to be smeared for that, right?

  17. Pz Myers

    I don’t use the block bot myself, but I do block all the same people on their list — your listing of their qualifications is purely an appeal to authority, and you do realize that people with Ph.D.s or who write books can be godawful jerks, don’t you?

    I object to it because it is a limited, specific solution to a narrow subset of a broader problem. There are people whose comments I find of no value, or who are on an active campaign of harassment, and I’d rather not see their noise when I’m browsing a conference hashtag, for instance. But I want to be the one who makes that decision, not the maintainers of the block bot, and I recognize that other people will have a different criteria for blocking. The current implementation is very much just for that group of people who identify with the aims of Atheism+.

    (And why them? What you gloss over, but is clearly apparent in the comments here, is that some people regard the existence of Atheism+ as a personal affront and react in a hateful knee-jerk fashion to anything that hints of it — which includes the godawful jerks with Ph.D.s on that list. The block bot is a defensive measure against a very specific trolling campaign.)

    What we need is a general solution, one that can be easily customized for each user. Block bot ain’t it.

    1. Tim Farley Post author

      I agree that highly qualified people can be jerks, and I repeated several times in the article that I fully support everyone blocking for whatever reasons they see fit. In fact, it happens that one of the Block Bot admins went off on me last night over this post, in a long string of angry tweets that would easily qualify as “harassment” as many people use the term. I saw none of it at the time because I had blocked this person long ago when I determined them to be a nitwit.

      What I object to is that, especially in the recent media publicity, The Block Bot is being portrayed as a tool against outrageous misogynistic harassment, when the numbers show that in fact it is mostly being used to systematically block people that (some, all) of a certain group of people disagree with. That is at best false advertising or bait-and-switch and at worst deeply distasteful or morally wrong.

      I agree a personally configurable block list would be a better solution. I’d also like to see Twitter fix the bugs in blocking, like for instance how a blocked person can still show up in a hashtag search.

      1. Pz Myers

        Those people who are being systematically blocked are in a group that carries out, or passively supports, ongoing misogynistic harassment. It’s not just disagreement.

        But otherwise I agree, it is inappropriate to call it a tool against misogynistic harassment, because it only deals with a tiny handful of abusers. There are many more abusers out there than are found in that select group, so it’s effectively useless against the great majority of trouble-makers.

      2. Tim Farley Post author

        I’ve got to agree with Steersman that “passively supports” seems like a rationalization to me. What does it even mean to “passively support ongoing misogynistic harassment”? Like the policies I criticize in the post, that seems ready made to be abused.

      3. Steersman

        PZ Myers said (yes, we have no bananas):

        Those people who are being systematically blocked are in a group that carries out, or passively supports, ongoing misogynistic harassment. It’s not just disagreement.

        Apart from questioning the credibility of your assessment and evidence for “misogynistic harassment” – a brush you apparently use to tar every one in the group, one might suggest that your “passively supports” is little more than a pretext for rationalizing “guilt by association”. Which is considered variously as, “an inductive informal fallacy”, a “hasty generalization”, a “red herring”, or an “appeal to emotion”.

        And the credibility of your assessment is further discredited by noting the rather active support of many women in at least levels 2 and 3 for many facets of what might be called “feminism” – a rather broad spectrum encompassing no few contradictions if not heresies.

      4. moseszd

        I’d left the atheist community for years so I missed Elevator gate and the great schism as it happened.

        .When I came back at looked at this little war, it’s causes and effects, I lost all respect for Paul and the much of the FtB crowd as they have the primary bullies and guilty parties in the ongoing strife and harassment.

        So, as far as I can see, the true bottom line is that Paul’s lying about the block-bot and his motivations and his endorsements and the behavior of his self-created enemies and has been playing this little line for years now. Something he gets away with because he’s got the big-traffic blog and people are (mostly) too lazy to really dig into what’s happened in the community.

        That block-bot list is about sticking to people oolOn doesn’t like, even if it’s guilt by association. This includes people Paul doesn’t like and many of those people were put on this list because Paul didn’t like them and blocked them at his blog.

        The truth is there are people on that list who have never, not once, tweeted the slightest harassment or even mildly off-colored tweet. But because they followed someone on the list, had someone on the list follow them, or because they ran afoul of oolOn and/or FtB and their purity politics, became slandered-through-false-identification/association as misogynistic jerks and scum.

      5. equivalenceprinciple

        How is the media portrayal of the Block Bot the problem? Ool0n/the Block Bot are hardly responsible on how an independent media outlet chooses to edit their own content. Newsnight had all of the info, they chose how to present it. The Block Bot itself clearly does not present itself as simply or only a tool against outrageous misogynistic harassment, which you can see from the Level descriptions on the sign up page.

        And as far as your characterization of the blockees as being a group of people that “a certain group disagrees with,” I suppose that’s your prerogative to interpret it that way, but I think that reasonable people understand that this is a potato/potahto situation. Your “disagreements” are another person’s “holy cow I just cannot deal with this really annoying person who is relentlessly tweeting at me about stuff that we are never going to agree on, all while complaining about being bullied.”

    2. John C. Welch

      You block every account on that list PZ? Because they’re all “bad people” or abusive?

      That’s not only a hilariously overbroad, but it’s provably bullshit. I can prove, without any sort of waffling or stretching the truth in any way, shape or form, that there is at least one account on there which, since 2008 has only made 25 posts, 13 of which were to test various blog/twitter integration plugins. This account has *never* directly, or indirectly interacted with anyone you would know. No one on FTB, no one on Skepchicks, or A+. In fact, other than the person who created it, it has @messaged exactly 5 people, none of whom are involved with FTP, Skepchicks, TAM, A+, the ‘Pit or anything else even vaguely related.

      Why is it on the block list?

      Because it follows me. Hell, the person who created it isn’t on the block list. The only, the ONLY connection this account has with any of this idiocy is that it follows me. It’s not even posted enough to be “boring”, yet there it is on the list. So why is it on the block list? We know why. It’s because your little fanboy put it there.

      Your insinuation that:

      “Those people who are being systematically blocked are in a group that carries out, or passively supports, ongoing misogynistic harassment. It’s not just disagreement.”

      is complete bullshit, it’s a fallacy, it is in fact a lie. All it takes is the existence of one account that doesn’t fit your “criteria”, and there is in fact at least one. You could figure all this out if you did any research, but because the bot’s list is so convenient for you and feeds your confirmation bias so neatly, of course you won’t do any research. You might find some facts that don’t fit your little narrative, and *then* where would you be?

      You’d think someone who likes to bag on creationists for blindly believing stuff wouldn’t be so easily sucked into doing the same. Perhaps, when you’re done not researching the block bot’s actual data, you’d maybe not read some Nietzsche. There’s a few points he makes that would apply to you rather well.

    3. jjramsey

      you do realize that people with Ph.D.s or who write books can be godawful jerks, don’t you?

      But the sorts of people that Farley listed weren’t merely people who managed to convince some university to give them a high-level degree, or those who convinced some publisher that they had a marketable manuscript. Several of the people that he described were in roles of leadership that involve a level of collaboration and social interaction that’s tricky to do while being a godawful jerk. Not impossible, mind you, but tricky, especially if one has to convince others to appoint or vote one into that position of leadership.

      Furthermore, the way that the documentation of The Block Bot describes those who are blocked implies that they are petty people who have little of import to say — which is also hard to square with the descriptions that Farley gives of some of the people blocked by the Bot.

      To put in more bluntly, your argument is a bit of a strawman, because you replaced the descriptions that Farley offered — of people who are in positions that would be hard to acquire while being antisocial fools — and replaced them with descriptions that are more readily reconcilable with trollish behavior.

  18. Renee Hendricks (@reneehendricks)

    Some interesting things to note about this bot:

    1. At least over 20 accounts listed on L1 are [[REDACTED]] (notorious stalker from [[REDACTED]]) accounts. At one point, I was largely responsible for adding those.
    2. An announcement *only* account of mine – [[REDACTED]] – is listed as a L3 account. What’s curious to me is this account does not interact with Twitter users. It simply puts out blogs posts. So, why is it on the list??
    3. As someone who has listed a stalker as someone who should be added, I know first-hand how quickly an account can get suspended by reporting it for spam. I’ve addressed this many times to the creators of the BlockBot and am always “pooh-poohed”.
    4. There is no actual policing or verification going on. [[REDACTED]] is listed as a “stalker” or “doxxer”. As far as I can tell this is simply because a number of people within the A+ community don’t like her. Nothing more.

    I’m hoping this bot just dies out soon. As someone who’s been on Twitter for many years, I’ve found simply blocking and using TweetDeck to filter out unwanted crud is more than sufficient.

  19. Pingback: Unskeptical Complaints | Dubito Ergo Sum

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  21. CARE

    While the Block Bot needs to be more transparent, especially as it gets more airtime, I’m worrying about the use of appeal to authority here when a lot of the people I’ve seen using it are specifically in groups who aren’t very well-protected by our current culture.

    This is a niche usage, bear with me or bail now if you want.

    The specific example I’m thinking of are trans* people, since the TERF-blocking element is what got me interested in the first place. There’s plenty of cis people who will say “but CARE, how can you claim you ‘identify as’ male, when gender is a societal construct and I know you’re really a woman! The patriarchy has deluded you but I can explain” is reasonable debate. There’s trans* people who say nonbinary and GNC trans* people don’t exist.

    I’m not using the Block Bot yet, because my public account is new. But if I start coming to their attention I don’t want to have to deal with them, I don’t want to have to wait for them to strike first and have to wade through my mentions blocking manually, and I don’t trust the majority population to be able to ID what they’re doing as wrong. It took me a good fifteen minutes the other day to explain to my dad why “a trans” is not a thing. I don’t really expect better from 99% of the world because they made it on twitter, or through four years of college, or ten.

    So I’ve been tracking back every new block and reading an hour or so back on their timeline, and now I’m taking the people who say they or their friend or their cousin’s brother-in-law’s nephew’s girlfriend “did nothing wrong” and “some nitwit overreacted” with a grain of salt.

    1. Tim Farley Post author

      (For others reading this thread, TERF means Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. I had to look it up myself, so I figured it might be unfamiliar).

      I get what you are saying, and as I’ve said many times, I support your right to block as you see fit.

      One question based on: “I don’t trust the majority population to be able to ID what they’re doing as wrong.”

      I wonder if you are misunderstanding how @ mentions work for public Twitter accounts, as you said yours is new. Are you aware that your followers cannot see mentions directed to you if they do not also follow the person mentioning you? (Unless they specifically go searching for it, of course).

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  25. cherryteresa

    I just wanted to say thank you, Tim, for continually combining your in-depth knowledge of information technology with skepticism. We know that you have a busy life and a full-time job, along with other side projects, and we appreciate the time and bananas you put into researching things.

  26. metroplexsouthsider

    Seeing all of this (still SocraticGadfly, as my WordPress account is years old, and originally from a now-closed newspaper), I’m also glad that I’m not an insider in either Professional Atheism(TM), either Gnu, or Old or Neocon or Paleocon divisions, or any other. Ditto for Professional Skepticism(TM), with its libertarians-posing-as-skeptics division and other issues, but that’s fodder for other blogging.

  27. Pingback: Virtual Skeptics #51 – 8/7/2013 | The Virtual Skeptics

  28. Pingback: Only the Dumbest People on the Internet get to Administer @the_block_bot » Oolon's Blog

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  34. Luís Dias (@lmldias)

    What I think is the biggest damage that this Block Bot does is that once anyone of those 10 admins who run it decide that he/she has enough of @whoever, and puts the guy/girl on the list, then it’s really nearly impossible to undamage things. The reason being that the bot only blocks, it does not “unblock”. Whenever someone makes a mistake or is being just “emotional” at the moment (lets put aside worse causes), the damage is done. For the thousands (more?) using that bot, that person no longer exists on twitter.

    There is no social precedent to this one. “Shaming” people might work if you want to achieve x or y, but this is more akin to socially shun forever someone, and it can be overtly abused. I am against the idea, although personally I don’t “mind it”. I think I am included in it, and my twitter experience hasn’t degraded one iota thus far.

    I also am amused at the observed inference I make of this…. AFAICT the admins do not use blockbot themselves, so they can “watch” for those who do. IDK, I find it all very socially troubling in a more zoomed out kinda way, but it’s still too soon to know.

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  37. SupersonicBurst (@VixenAssassin)

    I thought this article was far from bananas.

    I was added to the bock bot several months ago because I didn’t agree that a penis is a female organ. No abuse. No threats of violence. Just those words. That tweet was screencapped and I was added as a ‘TERF’ (I’m not a RadFem, I don’t identify as anything political). Tonight, ‘the block bot’ has dug up an old tweet where I said I had experienced racism for being white and has implied I’m racist. The tweet he dug up was in response to my TL being spammed by transwomen who laughed at the fact I had been raped as a teenager and had been assaulted when pregnant because my attacker didn’t like white women. The police treated it as a racially motivated crime, however myself talking about it is racist according to the block bot.

    I deplore racism, no matter who the perpetrators or the victims are, and to be made out to be racist is quite distressing, especially as my ‘crime’ is based on nothing other than my tweeting I have experienced racism for being white – a tweet that was in response to the sneering tweets being spammed to my TL by transwomen who thought myself being violently assaulted while pregnant was funny and that I was a liar.

    I don’t expect people to agree with my opinions, just as I don’t have to agree with their opinions. I also don’t have a problem with people blocking me of their own free choice, but I do have a problem with being added to a list and vilified because I don’t share the same opinions as ‘the block bot’ or his friends in the TW community.

    You will never find a tweet on my TL where I have threatened people with violence or wished death on them, yet I have been added to the block bot list by people who have frequently threatened violence to women and have created hashtags wishing death on women, such as #dieinafire, which was created by someone who has the power to add people to the block bot, that person frequently tweets death threats.

    It is fast becoming a silencing tool that is used against any woman who dares to confront the misogynistic slurs, violent hate speech and death threats that are tweeted by a small group of TWs – some of which, have the power to add people to the block bot list.

    By all means, block me if you don’t agree with me, but if I’m going to be added for disagreeing that a penis is a female sexual/reproductive organ and for talking about being assaulted when I was pregnant by a man who hated white women (as he fully admitted) then why not also block people who create hashtags wishing death/rape on ‘cis’ women (biological women) and remove the ‘block bot privileges’ from those who tweet death/violence threats?

    Otherwise, it’s pure hypocrisy.

    (as requested, I’ve not named names, which is frustrating as a check of their TLs would have proved to have been true.)

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