Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A quick post for @colmsmyth about what you can see when someone blocks you

For the last 11 months I've kept a search open for people talking about the block on Twitter and if they say anything indicating that someone you've blocked can't see your tweets then I generally tweet back and point out, politely, that this isn't quite the case. I'm sure I am the most annoying person in the world (and occasionally people tell me to thrrppp, but mostly it's indifference and sometimes people are pleased to know about it and make their accounts private if they've been experiencing abuse from someone monitoring their tweets) but it bothers me a lot that Twitter's clarity on what happens when you block someone is so... turbid.

What you can or can't see when someone blocks you depends a great deal on what platform or software you're using. It seems that Twitter for Android behaves differently from Twitter for iPhone, and on Echofon for iPhone not only can you see all their tweets but you can see their profile too (but not on Twitter for iPhone). On desktop Twitter (Mac, Firefox) you can't see their profile page but you can see all their tweets by searching for their username (their hashtagged tweets would also show up if you happened to be looking at the hashtag search results).

Colm Smyth has also found a trick using an IFTTT (IF This Then That) script that sends all tweets from a blocked account to you. I was intrigued to discover that he doesn't see all tweets when searching their username though.

So we tried it out and he's blocked me for half an hour while I take some screenshots, so that I can show him what I see when I look at his profile and search for his tweets, while blocked. First I logged out and refreshed the page.

Here's me logged out...

Here's me logged in again and unable to see his profile when I go to his page...

Here's me searching for his tweets. I've typed from:colmsmyth into the search bar. If I type just colmsmyth then I see only my tweets until I click the 'Live' link. The 'Top' link is shown first by default, underlined in blue in the picture below, just above the avatar in the first of his tweets I can see. I'd just see more tweets (and in their correct order) by clicking the Live option.

It is quite possible that his system shows something else entirely. Twitter has given users inconsistent and incomplete information about how the block works.

As far as I can tell, from Twitter's point of view when you block someone you no longer have to see their tweets (they cannot contact you through that account). Given there are so many ways / workarounds for the blockee to see your tweets I have to assume that preventing that from happening was never really a 'thing'. Of course you can always log out of your account and view any public account. You might think 'everyone knows that' but I can assure you, from 11 months of chatting to strangers about it, that it's not actually obvious or intuitive to everyone until they considered it or had it pointed out to them. Of course once they realise, it's perfectly obvious.

Many people form their mental model of the way Twitter's block works from the system that they use to implement a block or experience a block (and this is perfectly reasonable). It is not obvious that the way a block works on 'your Twitter' does not transfer to 'other people's Twitter' though, where blocks may be much leakier on different apps.

I've no objection to the block being leaky (there is actually no technological solution to this given that Twitter is public by default and there is no need to log in to view content), just the fact that Twitter implies that it isn't. It is.

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