What Does It Mean to Block – or be Blocked – on Social Media in 2018?

By on July 6, 2018

What’s the story with blocking these days? What does it actually mean if you’ve been blocked, or chosen to block someone?

With social platforms having surpassed the ten-year mark quite a while ago now, people are still somewhat confused by the unpleasant yet often necessary process that is blocking someone.

Take the US President for instance. A New York judge recently ruled that it was unconstitutional for Donald Trump to keep his critics at bay through blocking on his personal account, @realDonaldTrump – as this goes against the first amendment.

Trump isn’t the only one to be perplexed by the blocking procedure. There are interrelated reasons for blocking, which has resulted in people being led astray by what the feature really means, as well as what it does.

Each social platform offers a unique approach to blocking. The main similarities with social media platforms are there for all to see (just look at the designs), but blocking remains a totally different experience depending on which social platform you are using.

The one primary similarity that remains consistent across each platform is the diversion of attention towards blocking: it’s a feature any social platform wouldn’t want to promote as it represents a negative experience on their site.

One of the design choices social platforms have gone for is to make it somewhat ambiguous as to whether you’ve been blocked or not. You usually have little to no knowledge of what has happened. The benefit is that the blockers’ privacy is maintained, but the downside is that there’s no true indication or explanation for the blocked person.

Blocking also differs depending on who’s using the feature. The majority of blockings take place when there’s an unwillingness to interact with another account, although it’s also part of a wider range of communication aspects, such as blocking your ex after a break-up. Others may block family members to keep their social accounts or behaviour hidden, while others may hide their personal accounts from their work colleagues.

Social media users are almost always confused – and curious – about the reasons for succumbing to blocking. The popular search query “have I been blocked on…” is a clear example of the consideration people give for being blocked.

Blocking is also confusing as it’s something that is relevant to online life, but not physical or social life. Blocking has created an entirely new set of conventions as a result of this, with motives and intentions being built around the functionality.

As is the case with public spaces, social platforms are likely to witness bad behavior from many of its users. All social networks provide a blocking functionality and have experimented with various approaches to ensure people can avoid abuse and have a positive experience on their site.

Of all the social platform blocking features out there, Twitter is certainly the most talked about. Twitter doesn’t shy away from telling you if you’ve been blocked, and it makes ti clear if you attempt to visit the blockers personal feed.

The indication given has been perceived by many to be a source of pride, especially when there are celebrities involved. What’s more, if a debate you take part in results in you being blocked, this is seen as the blocker ‘giving up’; another badge of honor for some.

It’s people with larger followings that often take a more liberal approach to their blocking. For some blocking is an option to keep people away from conversations, or to ensure the level of toxicity received is minimized.

The blocking feature isn’t solely used by individuals either. Many US politicians and federal agencies rely on blocking to avoid critics on Twitter and Facebook – however many have questioned the legality behind these decisions.

The best way to make sense of blocking as a whole is to become aware of what being blocked actually looks like for each social platform:

Twitter

As we mentioned above, Twitter spells it out for you if you’ve been blocked by a certain account. “@username has blocked you”

Twitter says: “Blocked accounts do not receive a notification alerting them that their account has been blocked. However, if a blocked account visits the profile of an account that has blocked them, they will see they have been blocked.”

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is somewhat ambiguous as you may be given the indication you’re still connected. However, messages remain at a single ‘delivered’ tick and profile images disappear.

WhatsApp says’ “we have made this intentionally ambiguous in order to protect your privacy when you block someone.”

Facebook

There’s an element of subtlety to Facebook’s blocking approach.

Being blocked and being unfriended are quite similar on Facebook, although the main difference is there’s no way to interact directly if you’ve been blocked.

Tumblr

With Tumblr, it’s a case of figuring it out from the signs.

Tumblr says “We don’t tell people when you block them, so they will not automatically know. But they might figure it out on their own if they visit your website, try to reblog one of your posts, say, and are prevented from doing so.”

Snapchat

Pretty obvious this one.

While you can send messages, they will never appear read, the person disappears from your search and also your contacts list. Snapchat say “If you block a friend, they won’t be able to view your Story or send you Snaps and Chats.”

Instagram

The user who blocks you on Instagram disappears.

You won’t be able to view or even come across their profile, posts or their story.

About Tom Bracher

Tom Bracher is the UK Marketing Lead at Pulsar Platform, an audience intelligence tool which was born out of a research agency.
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