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 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Twitter's new update - blocked people can still see your tweets, but it is harder

People can always see your public tweets, even if you've blocked them, by just logging out. Other workarounds include using a third party app to view your tweets, or using a secondary account (or even searching on Google). Twitter's released a new update in the last few days (people can now retweet themselves, which might prove interesting) and they've really tightened up the block function - but claims that 'blocked people can't see your tweets' are, and always will be, incorrect. The only way to stop someone (even one person) from seeing your tweets is to make your account private.

The conflict between people's own experiences of using Twitter, the information Twitter gives about the block (and other news reports) and what is actually possible when using the service is the reason for this update / post.

I used to think I had a reasonable handle on Twitter's block but how it is implemented (how it appears to the user) has become increasingly app- and platform-dependent so it's really not possible to say with much confidence what someone will see if they're blocked / if you've blocked them.

On official Twitter apps such as desktop / browser Twitter and Tweetdeck (owned by Twitter I believe) it seems that you can no longer see anything, no profiles, no tweets in search. If you've blocked someone you'll no longer see their tweets, even if retweeted - this is a new and positive step for most people. But...

Remember that third party apps (Echofon for iPhone, Twicca for Android etc) often behave very differently from official apps and can let people you've blocked see your tweets.

Every time Twitter updates block I see a lot of tweets from people commenting that others now can't see their tweets - but they can, always have been able to and always will be able to. Please let anyone that needs to know, know, thanks.

More detailed information for block function enthusiasts (can't just be me, surely!)
I've done a quick test with a couple of accounts and apps and, thanks to a handy alternative medicine quack who's blocked me and who helpfully provides a testing ground, I present my results below ;) Feel free to share your findings too in the comments... especially if they're different from mine.

Desktop / browser platforms 

Twitter for desktop / browser (ie twitter.com on Firefox)
Profile view: I can't see it if I try and visit, it says they've blocked me.
Search results: their tweets don't show up, and clicking on a reply no longer brings up their tweet in the conversation thread. This may be different on other browsers. A friend reported they could see conversation threads on Chrome (though only on multi-person tweets, not one-to-one conversations) however Twitter's had another update since the latest one and this may no longer be the case.
Embedded RTed links: Clicking on a referred link also fails to show me the tweet and returns "you are not authorised to see that status". In fact the referred tweets don't show up in search, only on profile of sender (tweet shows as 'this tweet is unavailable' and message is "sorry you are not authorized to see this status."

Dabr.co.uk - basic functionality Twitter app
Profile view: not visible
Search results: namesearch: their tweets show up, hashtag search: tweets show up
Embedded RTed links: Not seen specific examples but given their actual tweets are visible anyway...


iPhone apps 
Twitter for iPhone
Profile view: I cannot see the profile of an account that has blocked me, it says that I'm blocked.
Search results: I can't see any tweets they've sent in search results. Clicking on other people's tweets in response to the blocker's tweets also doesn't show their original tweet in conversation.
Embedded RTed links: These are where the blocker's tweet is retweeted as an embedded link. Clicking on these referred links shows "Error loading Tweets (401)" - previously it would have displayed the tweet and any conversation.

Echofon for iPhone
Profile view: I can't see any tweets (the message given is that they've made their account private, though that's not true) but I can see their followers / following list
Search results: their tweets show up in search results. Clicking on the tweet lets me reply to it or retweet it (comment RT only).
Embedded RTed links: Tweets show in search and appear as normal embedded tweets, rather than "this tweet is unavailable". However clicking on the tweet brings up a blank page.

Osfoora for iPhone
Janetter for iPhone
- both show tweets in search results

Android apps
Twitter for Android
I don't have an Android phone so can't test this myself but discussions on Twitter suggest that profiles are now properly blocked. I don't know about search results or conversation threads. Let me know, thanks.

Fenix for Android
I'm seeing reports on Twitter that this no longer shows tweets

Twicca for Android
Reports on Twitter suggest that tweets from blocked accounts are still visible. 


Conclusion
It's now a lot harder for someone to see your tweets if you've blocked them (or for you to see the tweets of someone who's blocked you). But it's not impossible and I often wonder if making it look as if it's harder just misleads people a bit. If your account is public, it's visible to everyone. 




3 comments:

  1. Hi,
    I can appreciate your interest in the block function of Twitter [or basically any social media app out there]. A while back I had the opposite issue of yourself, when attempting to block certain users from viewing my twitter [instagram, tumblr, pinterest etc etc] profile due to their lack of respect for copyright laws.
    As a photographer wanting to share my work with others who share the same interest, obviously the concept of a private account doesn't accomplish my primary purpose for posting the photos in the first place [sharing] but regardless of the social media platform - at the end of the day if someone wants to see what I'm posting, the block feature is nothing more than a slight deterrent and in the absolute best case scenario might successfully prevent only the least tech savvy people from seeing my posts.
    Being the techie geek that I am, I tried to consider from a technical standpoint exactly what Twitter [or other social media platforms] could implement [theoretically] from a technical standpoint that would accomplish what I was attempting to do [ie prevent ignorant people from saving my photos, cropping off my copyright watermark, applying really crappy filters to my photos and reposting to their own social media feeds]. While doing this brain-storming - looking at the pros & cons of various technical process [from a hypothetical standpoint] there's no block functionality Twitter [or others] could possibly implement that's going to prevent someone from driving to their parents' house, logging in with their parents' hardly used Twitter accounts to view [and save] my posts.
    The current Twitter block function prevents blocked users from being able to directly access my Tweets. This is easily remedied by simply logging out and viewing the public account anonymously.
    You mentioned a possibly remedy for this by having Twitter require users to log-in [preventing anonymous access]. This is quite easy to work around by logging in with another account, creating a new account, having a friend log in etc etc. The ease of this work-around doesn't account for the significant negative impact this would create - the difficulty it creates for web search engines [google, bing etc] to index Twitter's tweets. While possibly still do-able, the issues created for the search engines is greater than any benefit created for the Block function, given how easy it is to get around with another account anyway.
    Just to brain-storm, I took it one step further and considered a [somewhat unrealistic] idea where the block function went so far as to associate an IP address of a blocked user. If Twitter were to maintain IP addresses associated with user accounts [which they probably do - but not for this particular purpose] if I were to block Jane Doe from viewing my twitter account, Twitter would also block ANY users attempting to view my account from the Jane Doe's associated IP addresses. As with the previous idea, this creates nearly as many new issues as it resolves.
    Assuming Twitter were even willing to invest in the technology users who SHOULDN'T be blocked from account end up being blocked. Most residential internet is based on dynamic IP addressing which means at some point in time anyone in Jane Doe's neighborhood could end up with the IP address associated with her Twitter account. If the Jane Doe's was using a computer at an Internet Cafe, Library, Random Wi-Fi spot, Hotel or any other type of situation where multiple people / computers end up sharing an IP address - that many more people end up being blocked who shouldn't necessarily be blocked. AND if Jane Doe has any tech sense about her and REALLY wanted to see my account she could easily make use of a VPN, Private Browser [Tor] or [as I said originally] drive over to her parent's house and log-in on their computer with their Twitter accounts.
    [Continued In Next Comment . . .]

    ReplyDelete
  2. [ . . .Continued From Previous Comment]
    Given the ease at which an IP-based solution could be bypassed - and the issues created by doing so, it doesn't really make sense for Twitter [or any other social media platform] to spend the time developing such a solution.
    When you think about from Twitter's [or other social media platforms] perspective - there really isn't anything they can do that's going to prevent someone from viewing a public account - if a person really wants to view that account. [I'd be more than glad to brainstorm other solutions with you if you've got other ideas].
    What I do like from the current block function on Twitter is [eventually when this person grows bored and finds someone new to harass] when she's using Twitter's search function for Photos to steal - she isn't going to see mine in the results. If our circle of followers / followees overlaps - she won't see retweets / replies of mine. She can find someone else's work to use and infringe on their rights.
    What I eventually learned from this entire experience [and suggest you consider this as well - even if our roles are reversed in this situation] was that Twitter's block function wasn't the actual issue and hence wouldn't be the ultimate solution. The issue was this person's lack of respect for US Copyright laws. By addressing the actual issue [her reposting my work without my permission to her own social media feeds], Twitter's block function became a moot point.
    In my case this meant filing DMCA reports with every social media platform for everyone of my photos she'd posted - to the extent that a few of her accounts were suspended on various platforms, and those which didn't suspend her account, removed my photos - leaving a stub that she'd posted copyrighted work. Coincidentally, she'd tried to block ME from viewing HER accounts assuming this would prevent me from being able to see her posts and file DMCA notices. Regardless of the social media platform - as you are well aware by now made it slightly more difficult to search for my work - but ultimately didn't prevent me from finding it. Other users who saw it would report the URLs to me [The URL needed to file a DMCA Takedown notice]. Eventually she just stopped doing it.
    While we appear to have opposite issues [my being a blocker and you being a blockee], I would recommend you consider looking at the root of the issue. It's not really about you're being able to see this user's Tweets [having been blocked via Twitter] in order to rebut his claims on Twitter. The issue [from what I can understand] is his posting false claims about his products [?] and / or services [?] or simply providing inaccurate / false medical information for which [I'm assuming your concern] could result in someone not receiving proper medical care / treatment. [Something along those lines from what you've described].
    My advice to you would be rather than attempting to circumvent his blocking you on Twitter [which I guess wouldn't make for a very interesting blog post], spend that time filing claims & reports with the various appropriate government agencies and / or leading medical groups ABOUT the false information being perpetuated by this Twitter user's claims. If his claims are just within a grey area for the government to have the account shut down, it still possible a large medical advocacy groups associated with the claims he's making can pressure Twitter to have the account shut down.
    [Continued In Next Comment . . .]

    ReplyDelete
  3. [ . . .Continued From Previous Comment]
    I can help you find links to any of the following, also these are all US based, if you are outside of the US, you'd want to find the similar government agencies for your country. If the user is outside of the US - you can still file complaints/reports with the respective US agencies because he's using the US-based company Twitter to propagate his claims.
    If he's selling products or services [or recommending the purchase of products / services] and making outright untrue claims - file complaints with the FBI, FDA, BBB and Consumer Reports etc. The FDA especially if he's selling or recommending some type of 'miracle drug'.
    If he's not selling anything but provide medical advice which you believe could result in death or injury to someone [for following his treatment or by not seeking appropriate treatment due to his 'advise'] find the respective medical organization and send them a letter with your concerns - drawing attention to the tweets.
    I'm not in the medical field so you might have to find the right organization, but as an example, if he's making wild claims [along with misrepresenting a medical background] claiming diabetics should stop taking insulin and eat cookies instead - Contact the American Diabetes Association. Fwd his tweets [from another twitter account] express your concerns via their facebook page, send them email about the impact his advice is having on others etc etc. Essentially get the attention of someone high up enough within the organization that they can pressure Twitter to shut down the account.
    While the first amendment protects free speech [assuming this other user is even Tweeting from the US] there are things that it doesn't allow. And even if his claims & tweets are protected by the 1st amendment - that doesn't mean Twitter wants the negative PR that could be associated with their being used to propagate false claims that could result in injury or death to others.
    And after you've contacted every applicable government agency, medical organization - send some letters / emails to your local news outlets [legitimate news outlets like your regional ABC, NBC, CBS or FOX channel] about your concerns. Some regional news stations have email addresses and departments specifically for things like this [providing tips for potential news stories]. Let them investigate and report on his claims. At the very least even if his Twitter isn't shut down - you've accomplished what you're trying to do, educating others about the dangers of the claims he's making. While you may or may not have the standing on Twitter to refute his claims [even if he hadn't blocked you] - having major news stations debunk or warn others about his claims will reach even more people. [And again, possibly pressure Twitter into shutting down his account].
    Anyway, I know your article was about the Block Function within Twitter and I'd looked into before but eventually came to the conclusion that regardless of what Twitter [and others] were to do with it - the end result eventually creates more issues and doesn't prevent access by someone who wants access.
    If your research into the technical aspect of the Block function stems out of concerns for the safety of others due to the message this user is delivering via Twitter I'd look into stopping it at the source and get assistance in cutting off his message. This depends on exactly what he's doing [ie selling products / services, recommending products / services or just outright providing dangerous medical advice]
    Sorry for the really long message. I am bipolar and have trouble organizing my thoughts and explaining what I want to say when I write. Somewhere in there should be some useful / helpful information & ideas.
    [That's the end :) ]

    ReplyDelete

Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).