• Blocking, banning, and blacklisting (Part 1)


    Fairly recently, James Billingham lashed up a Twitter bot to automate the process of blocking undesirable people: The Block Bot. It is apparently meant to be a sort of supplement to the user ban lists on sites like Freethought Blogs and Skepchick, helping out right-thinking people by making it easier for them to avoid interacting with certain undesirables when using Twitter. I’d like to quickly lay out a few objections to this sort of approach.

    1. Mass blocking leads to user suspensions – James denies this, but the Twitter rules clearly state that “if a large number of people are blocking you” that will be weighed into their spam algorithm. People who are highly experienced with being stalked on Twitter will tell you that mass-blockings are an effective way to get new accounts shut down. Don’t take my word for it, though, just create a new Twitter account and get it added to the block list.
    2. Mass blocking leads to less skepticism – The nature of skepticism requires rigorously testing one’s models of reality, and one of the better ways to do that is to engage your opponents. As it happens, a few of the people on block list (Renee, Karen, Ryan, Jim, Michael and Jonathan come to mind here) have raised thoughtful objections to the factual claims and social theories put forth by Atheism Plus forums, which serves as the primary user community for this project. Because the block list includes not only abusive assholes, obvious trolls, and shitty satirists, but also some of the sharper individuals who have been outspoken against A+, the list serves to insulate its subscribers not only from hateful vitriol, but also from skeptical inquiry.
    3. Mass blocking leads to less freethought – The sine qua non of freethought is the ability to think problems through for oneself instead of relying upon received wisdom from the establishment. By outsourcing the problem of whom to block to the bot admins, you are saving time and effort at the cost of losing the opportunity to work through the problem on your own and drawing your own lines of what constitutes tolerable discourse. Maybe your own personal tolerance for criticism and satire is significantly higher than that of the bot-blockers. Perhaps you are capable of holding your own with people who disagree, or else you’re willing to practice with them until you get there.

    If the list was limited to impersonators and genuinely abusive people, problem 1 would be much less serious, and problems 2 & 3 would be obviated completely. As it stands, though, the block list is at the discretion of the most famously censorious, capricious, and biased mods known to the English-speaking rationalist movement. Even this problem could be overcome if they took the trouble to generate explicit inclusion criteria and document why each account was added to the list. As it stands, though, they are asking you to simply trust their judgement. Put your faith in the good shepherds of social justice, their rod and their staff shall comfort thee. Or, you can think for yourself.

    Category: Atheism PlusSecularismUncategorized

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.

    2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

    • ool0n

      “will be weighed into their spam algorithm” … Yeah so if someone *else* reports you for spam then this blocking you may be an issue! Not my issue however 😛

      Everything else is covered by “freeze peach”

      But seriously I would have thought you would welcome it – surely the people just like Nazis, The Spanish Inquisition, Stalin and probably Xenu by now shouldn’t be allowed into your timeline either! Think of the damage we could do just by deploying our evilz feminist mind control techniques. *fnord*

      BTW – I’m “James Billingham”… What’s D4M1ON got against Douglas Adams characters?

      • ool0n

        Damn… Forgot…

        “Don’t take my word for it, though, just create a new Twitter account and get it added tothe block list.”

        Yeah… We have… No effect…

      • No effect? I’m sure @JimThePleb would disagree on that. To paraphrase PZ, will you be painting enemy insignia on the side of your keyboard for each kill?

      • ool0n

        Yup, whatever. If you are intent on insisting people are suspended through blocks alone with no evidence then I guess I’d better start.

      • Blocks alone? Who knows. Seems quite likely given what I’ve seen on the Dawn Gordon stalker accounts, but Twitter is clever enough not to disclose the inner workings of its ever-evolving spam detection algorithm.

        True or false: Mass blockings contribute to getting peachy people like Jim frozen out.

      • ool0n

        Wow, the pit would be howling all over a “FfTB’er” who made an unequivocal statement in a blog post like this –>

        “1. Mass blocking leads to user suspensions”

        …. Then clarifies in the comments…

        “Blocks alone? Who knows. Seems quite likely…”

        Slimy Baboons eh? Hoggles law obviously applies in this case…

      • Maybe you cannot tell the difference between “leads to” and “is a sufficient condition for” but that’s not my problem. I explained in the OP that blocking is weighed in as one factor among many. It may be sufficient in and of itself, or may not. You’ve claimed that it is not a sufficient condition, but have provided only one unsupported anecdote (the bot itself) as evidence.

        True or false: Mass blockings contribute to getting peachy people like Jim frozen out.

      • ool0n

        Oh yeah when someone reports for spam if lots of people block around the same time then they probably factor that into the suspend algorithm. However multiple spam reports are obviously going to be given a lot more weight than mere blocks. Then they have to suffer the indignity of ticking two boxes and filling out a captcha to prove they are not a bot!

        But… The bot doesn’t report for spam… If someone unrelated to the block list happens to report for spam at the same time then there is a possibility a few % of the decision to suspend will be down to the blocks and it may push it over the line into a suspend. But it is in no way the cause as stated here ->

        “1. Mass blocking leads to user suspensions”

        If everyone was using @the_block_bot then there would be no false-flagging as spam… So sign up now!

      • If someone were to say that “smoking leads to lung cancer” would you object that smoking does not lead to lung cancer in and of itself without other contributing factors?

      • ool0n

        Stupid analogies are fun! Yes I would say smoking does not cause lung cancer if everyone smoking only developed cancer after they also ate a pickled gherkin, or two…

        So if anyone on your “side” takes a pickled gherkin up the wazzoo and subsequently develops suspension “cancer”, don’t blame me!

      • How confident are you that no one on your side is going around forcibly suppositorizing designated blockees with pickled gherkins?

      • ool0n

        I’m providing smokes not gherkins and what a consenting adult does with a gherkin in the privacy of their own home is no concern of mine!

      • Hey James, I’m not sure what you mean by “freeze peach” but I’m getting the sense that it’s sort of a lighthearted way to make fun of the free marketplace of ideas. Not sure why it should be taken any more seriously than the silly nicknames that @ElevatorGATE and the ‘Pit give to their opponents.

      • ool0n

        Yeah I’m sure you have missed all the “freeze peach” stuff and how it is used, rather effectively I might say, by the “FfTB’ers” to ridicule the pit view that all voices must be heard by all. That banning on blogs or ignore/block on Twitter is restricting *your* free speech “rights” while an ignore on a certain forum is fine. I mean its not like you hang out at a forum that obsesses over *everything* said over there and has been dissected at length.

        Disingenuous much?

      • Did I at some point make an argument about free speech rights?

      • Feminist, huh. That’s funny, because I studied academic feminism, and I don’t recognize any of it in this infantile twitter behavior or this disingenuous, sarcastic communication style. But seeing as how few *if any* of the “atheismplus” crowd has any background in the issues they claim to care about and be spokespeople for, I’m not surprised.

      • ool0n

        Oh noes now we have “academic” feminism vs the usual “gender”, “equity” and “radfem” varieties… Don’t think I can keep up!

        But thanks for letting me know that “academic” feminists cannot be juvenile or sarcastic… I’ll avoid them as they sound dull.

      • Chill Chick

        This is what I hate about you plussers… the brain-dead binary thinking. Everyone is either a misogynistic rapist, or Andrea Dworkin. You refuse to recognize any middle ground or admit that anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with you might have valid points.

      • It’s completely idiotic. There is a ton of disagreement within feminism itself – several schools of feminism are in direct conflict with each other on an array of topics, from sex workers to trans rights/issues. None of these goofballs has any idea what feminism is or what they’re talking about.

      • I find it completely ironic that people like Greta Christina and the like who are associated with sex-positive feminism have gotten so completely behind the A+ gender wars. Because there are a lot of people on the more radical feminist side of things who would love to use arguments and precedents the Aplussers use to justify purging supposed “anti-feminists” for their own purge of sex-positive feminists. Considering Rebecca Watson’s slide toward radical feminism, becoming more apparent by the month on everything but trans issues, I could almost see this split emerging within the Skepchick/FTB/A+ crowd.

    • I’m a gay liberal with a background in Women’s Studies. I’ve lived in lefty oasis Madison, Wisconsin for ten years of my life surrounded by other feminists, queer activists, etc. My art has been featured in the Advocate. I don’t have an account on the ‘Slympite’ and have never posted there in my entire life.

      But here I am listed among “bigots, assholes, fools and Slymepitters”. Why, because I dare to disagree with their absurdly oversimplified, and intentionally incendiary gender politics? The nonsense the “atheismplus” crowd spews on-line doesn’t resemble anything we studied in Women’s Studies courses at UW-Madison. These nuts are the tea party of the left, and the drama blogs they worship are the FOX News.

      Hey guys, maybe if people who actually have academic underpinnings in the topics you pretend to know about disagree with you, YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THEM. It might mean you’re getting something wrong.

      And people like oolOn wonder why some of us are fed up with their lies and smear campaigns, and compare them to creationists?

      • ool0n

        Oh well might as well link here as well as on my blog… No Ryan, this sort of bullshit is probably why you were added ->

        Which you compound with bizarre call to authority claims of having academic credentials because you did a “womens studies” course once…

      • Clare45

        “bizarre call to authority”. Oolon, do you know what a call to authority is? If a person has academic credentials in the subject, he IS the authority. What kind of qualifications do you have in Women’s studies?

      • ool0n

        Lol… Did you not even bother looking up the appeal to authority fallacy before your gotcha?

        An Appeal to Authority is a fallacy with the following form:
        1. Person A is (claimed to be) an authority on subject S.
        2. Person A makes claim C about subject S.
        3. Therefore, C is true.

        Basically just because someone has “academic credentials” they are not the arbiters of truth. Ryan claiming he once did a “womens studies” course does not make him a truth machine on the subject of women/sexism/misogyny! Even if he was professor of “Womens studies” at Oxford his calling women bitches and being generally a sexist arse rather undermine the truth of his claim of not being a “bigot, asshole or fool”. So if he wants to demonstrate the truth of that claim the avenue to doing that is not repeating the bizarre mantra of “I did a women’s studies course once”… Like everyone else trying to demonstrate the truth of a claim he would need to provide evidence, maybe his “Womens studies” course will be helpful in compiling that evidenced argument. Personally I doubt it… I provided a helpful link to start off this journey…

    • ool0n

      Little update… Since only point 1 in your post is anything other than laughable.. Maybe your “side” will believe the defender of the “brave hero”.


      “….As far as I know, you still can only be suspended if you @ and are reported for spam. Both have to happen.”

      @the_block_bot never reports for spam… I make this REST API call to block -> https://dev.twitter.com/docs/api/1/post/blocks/create

    • ool0n

      Shouldn’t let you see this… As my aim is to get all your accounts suspended… But since you are all such special snowflakes I guess I’d better cut you a break.


      1. Getting suspended is no big deal – click a couple of boxes and you are back
      2. You can raise a ticket to not be on the auto-spam detection anyway

    • ool0n

      Where’s part II? I even made it so the list has the option of just limiting it to impersonators, stalkers and d0x’ers before handing it over to A+…

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