Elon Musk says the blocking feature of X, formerly of Twitter, is in the crosshairs, repeating his old complaint against the basic social networking feature. “Block will be removed as a ‘feature’, except for DMs”, Musk said in an answer X on Friday. he followed with another post: “Has no sense.”
Musk has made his feelings on the lockdown known in recent months. In June he said that Twitter should remove the block in favor of “a stronger form of silence”, and complained of big block lists and mass blocking campaigns against users who subscribe to Twitter Blue. But it also has a long history of promises being delayed or never implemented, and removing the “block” feature could be a particularly unpopular change.
Blocking brings some very tangible benefits, helping users (especially high-profile ones) to do anything from avoiding harassment to simply cleaning up spam in their replies. It’s rare for large social networks to launch without a lock button; when microblogging competitor Bluesky tried it out this spring, it became a sore spot that changed almost immediately. “Blocking is a form of moderation for users”, noted windows center editor-in-chief Daniel Rubino after Musk’s tweets today. Mute is also a type of moderation, but muted users can still follow your posts or spam replies that other people can see.
Do Apple and Google require a lock button? We might be about to find out
Musk has referred to X and Twitter as a kind of digital combat arena that it promotes free speech by encouraging constant and unrestricted communication, so it is not surprising that it is dismissive of this perspective. But there are questions about how it would work.
As multiple people Noticed, Apple and Google include language suggesting social networking apps need a block function – Google Play developers must provide “an in-app system for blocking (user-generated content) and users”, and iOS developers must provide “the ability to block abusive users of the service.” (While Apple’s language here seems ambiguous about whether users should have a block function, a publicly posted one iOS rejection message says flatly that “users need a mechanism to block abusive users”). Musk has no particular respect for following the rules, but he has recoiled from seeking direct fights with Apple in the past.
It’s also not clear how technically difficult it would be to remove the lock. Musk has complained on the stability of Twitter’s old codebase while at the same time cutting employees, including members of the core technical team. In addition to the first-order effects of ending the lockdown, removing a core feature could have unintended side effects for a site that has already experienced significant outages.
That being said, X is evolving under Musk. TweetDeck (now called X Pro) added a paywall earlier this week and the washington post apparently discovered a surreptitious throttling of links to Instagram, The New York Timesand other sites Musk doesn’t like, though he disappeared afterwards the washington post report. Removing the block (or making it a paid feature) isn’t necessarily imminent, but it’s not necessarily out of the question either.