Looking at my messages I suddenly felt my stomach drop to the floor. I was now in conversation with “Facebook User.”
My mind raced. “What did I do?!” [Enough] “How dare they!” [By doing it] “Couldn’t we talk it out?” [No] “Am I terrible?” [Inconceivable!] “Fine, good riddance”. [Congratulations, you’ve completed the five stages of FaceGrief™]
I then remembered a friend had just quit Facebook. Sure enough it was them. False alarm.
In my social media history I have been blocked three times that I’m certain of. Once after a breakup, the next after having called a (now former) friend on something, and the last after criticizing a Conservative MP on Twitter.
And each time there was, I’ll admit, a part of me that thought, “Ugh, how immature”.
Which is puzzling considering I’ve blocked a lot more people than three. I subscribe to multiple block lists on Twitter, and have a dozen or so people blocked on Facebook.
The block is a very new part of our social lives, and we often react to being blocked in a way that indicates we haven’t explored how to process it yet. Often when people find themselves blocked they will A) Try to rally support against the blocker, B) Frame the blocker as childish and ignorant, and C) Wear the block as a badge of victory.
Really thinking about why the blocker set that boundary tends to come somewhere after Z.
So the next time you find yourself blocked on social media, please keep the following in mind:
Social media is a real space.
Read the comments on any online harassment article and you’re likely to find someone (who probably hasn’t experienced any harassment before) saying “Whatever, it’s just the internet.”
But if the internet isn’t an integral part of our ‘offline’ reality, then why do most people get their jobs, living arrangements, and sometimes even new friends and dates as a direct result of online communication? Why do people commit suicide so frequently as a direct result of online abuse?
If you concede that social media is a real space, or at least a mirror image of reality, then a boundary online is no less meaningful than one offline. So if you ridicule someone for blocking you on Twitter or Facebook, that speaks to how much you can be trusted to respect a ‘real life’ boundary.
Boundaries do not have to be reasonable or agreed upon by all parties. That’s why they’re called boundaries.
The phrase, “You owe me an explanation” ought to be tossed out an airlock into the frozen reaches of space. The right to set a boundary should not have to be earned; by doing it in person, in private space, in a tone of voice that assuages your fee fees, and in a way that makes complete sense and reveals all the dirty history behind the need to do it.
If someone has to set a boundary at a safe distance, in public, loudly (maybe because you didn’t hear them the first time), and while revealing as much information as they’re comfortable sharing, that is their prerogative. Part of being a class act is accepting and adhering to boundaries that people set, even when they don’t make sense to you. Maybe they are childish for blocking you the way they did. Okay, good for you for being right; they still needed to end the conversation. Period. Drop your need for satisfaction and move on.
A block might prevent a learning opportunity for you, but it’s not their job to be your teacher.
I’ve seen people get blocked and lament that they were willing to learn from the person who blocked them. If, instead of blocking someone, you are able to engage them in conversation and gently allow them to realize how their behaviour is harmful, great. Not everyone can do that, though.
If you got blocked and really wanted to have a learning experience, no one is stopping you from now choosing to go and build one for yourself. You are not entitled to that other person’s expertise.
A block is not the same thing as government censorship.
You have the legal right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Individuals on Twitter are not the government.
I’ve seen people frame blocks as censorship. Nope. This is SOCIAL media. If you strike up a conversation with me on the bus and I change seats, I am not violating your right to free speech, I am exercising my right to freedom from YOUR speech.
Being blocked might not indicate you did anything wrong, even in the eyes of the person who blocked you.
Maybe it’s because blocking is such a new thing, but I don’t think we’ve realized yet that being blocked by someone isn’t the same thing as being told you’re a violent person.
You are not being shamed by being blocked. In fact, a block might not be about you at all. Maybe four people trolled them aggressively that day, and they just needed to be quick on the draw. Maybe there are larger mental health factors at work, and for them blocking people is about creating social safety valves in a general sense.
You can be totally level-headed and reasonable in how you engage with someone online, and if they still decide they want no part of you, take a moment of compassion for whatever their rationale might have been, and walk away. Think of blocking as just a normal thing, because it is.
“I don’t have the energy to debate” or “Please don’t @ me” should be conversation enders.
And yet so often they’re not. I’ve seen liberal social justice folks engaging with misogynist dudebros on Twitter, and when dudebro says “Please don’t @ me anymore”, I’ve seen it be the social justice-y one that just keeps on addressing the dudebro.
The lesson here, is that harassment isn’t just some thing that everyone is capable of doing except for you. You’re capable of it and so am I; it takes a little extra effort sometimes to be that self-aware.
The person on the other side of the block is real.
It can be hard to put your blocker’s feelings ahead of your own. You can’t respond to them, you have little idea what just happened, and you might feel deeply misunderstood.
But just as we need to be graceful when we’re turned down for a date or a job, we need approach online boundaries with grace and maturity. The more our interactions become internet-based, the more essential taking a block in stride is going to be.
Remember that depending on one’s culture, gender, mental health, or relationship experience, the ability to set boundaries in person might be constrained. The block button is a new way of levelling the playing field. As you’re just learning how to react to it, they’re just learning how to use it.