140 Characters and More

Hello, my name is Tyler Magruder.  Welcome to my blog!

For the next few paragraphs, I will be taking a look at Twitter and how it has been presented in the media within the last few weeks, specifically as it relates to its block feature and its use as a writing form.  I will look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of how media views Twitter’s uses, applications, limitations, and shortfalls, and what that means for the social media platform and its users.

Before I begin talking about the media, I will explain what Twitter is for those that do not use the social media platform.

Twitter is a popular social media site founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams.  While it shares a few similarities with Facebook, Twitter is completely different in most respects.  The basis of Twitter interaction is the Tweet, a status update of sorts that can be viewed by anyone that decides to follow you.  However, what sets a Tweet apart from a Facebook status update or any other social media is that a single Tweet is limited to 140 characters or less.  While this may seem to limit the practical applications of Twitter, it encourages brevity and strategic word choice.  A user can Tweet as frequently as they wish, so if they have something that cannot be said in 140 characters or less, they can simply split it into two or more Tweets.

Another feature of Twitter is the Twitter handle.  When someone makes a Twitter account, they choose both a user name and a Twitter handle.  The user name can be anything they want within 20 characters.  For example, my user name is just my name, Tyler Magruder.  Whenever someone sees your Tweets, your user name will be displayed above them.  However, the Twitter handle is what forms the basis of Twitter conversations.  Twitter handles begin with the @ sign, and are followed by a string of characters without spaces (though underscores are acceptable).  For example, my Twitter handle is @sorryjzargo.  If someone wanted to post a Tweet directed at me, they would include “@sorryjzargo” somewhere in the Tweet, and it would show up in my notifications.  Users can include as many Twitter handles in their Tweets as can fit the 140 characters, but it does limit the amount of information they can exchange in the Tweet.

Other features of Twitter include:





direct messaging,

discovering trends

discovering trends,

and blocking.

and blocking.

It is this last feature that has been in the media’s attention recently.  Since the early days of Twitter, users have been able to block other Twitter users from mentioning them in their Tweets or interacting with them in any other way.  With the recent update to Twitter, the functionality of the block feature has become more substantial.  Now, blocked Twitter users will no longer be able to view the user’s profile and users can manage blocked users from a simple interface, like mine.

As you can see, I don’t block many people, but a few people have left me with no other choice.

As you can see, I don’t block many people, but a few people have left me with no other choice.

There has been a lot of media response to the block feature in recent weeks.  I collected a corpus of articles about Twitter relating to its block feature from Time, PC Magazine, Mashable, Wired, Washington Post, NPR, and The Mary Sue.  After reading the articles, I compared which articles expressed a positive outlook on the block features and which expressed a negative outlook on the block features.  The majority appreciate the ability to remove harassers, trolls, and abusers from their social interaction in a quick, convenient fashion.  They praise Twitter for taking action after they received many criticisms of their old blocking system.  A few are uncertain how effective the tools will be, but they all agree that it is a step in the right direction.  However, The Mary Sue, while itself supporting the block features, points out an argument from members of the #GamerGate movement that the added block features allow for mass blocking based on impersonal criteria, such as the popular and infamous #GamerGate AutoBlocker bot that automatically blocks users based on their involvement in the #GamerGate movement.  While I do not support #GamerGate, they have a few points worth addressing.

The first point was brought up by Roberto Rosario, or @siloraptor, who claimed to be wrongfully included on the list.

The first point was brought up by Roberto Rosario, or @siloraptor, who claimed to be wrongfully included on the list.

While he did contribute some Tweets involving #GamerGate, he appears to be largely removed from the overall scandal and actually in charge of a pro-women game development team.  He argues that by creating such an arbitrary list, it limits the communication that individuals can have over Twitter.  However, as the article points out, the creator of the block list, Randi Harper, or @freebsdgirl, included several ways for blocked members to get whitelisted in the instance of wrongful auto-bans.  While it does create an annoyance for people wrongfully banned, it is an easily surmountable problem.

Their other claim is that the block features limits, or even censors the conversation.  While some people may prematurely block people that they think are potential harassers, in the vast majority of instances, removing harassment from conversations only allows for deeper, safer conversations.  People limit conversations every day, from closing a door so outside people do not hear, to leaving the room when the conversation grows boring.  The people that claim that blocking individuals is censorship have a fundamental misunderstanding of censorship.  Everyone has the right to say what they want, but everyone also has the right to ignore what they say.  Blocking someone on Twitter is not removing their ability or right to say what they want.  Instead, it just removes the harmful voices from an individual’s feed.  It has some potential for abuse.  For example, I have seen conversations where a user will jump into a conversation, usually with a derogatory or misguided statement, and then promptly block everyone involved in the conversation.  This leaves no chance for those involved to contest the statement, though ignoring these individuals is often for the best.  As they say, don’t feed the trolls.

As a writing tool, Twitter has certain limitations, but it has many features that make it preferable to many of the other social media platforms available.  With the improved blocking features, Twitter is a safer environment for the discussion of all things, both mundane and profound.  Hopefully these new tools will prove useful in the eternal battle against internet trolls, allowing for uninterrupted discourse between two willing participants rather than between two participants and dozens of screaming voices.

The articles describe Twitter as a troubled place, full of trolls, harassers, and radicals.  I have certainly experienced this element of Twitter, though mostly secondhand.  I have not received any serious threats or harassments, but I have seen it happen to others dozens of times.  The articles also describe Twitter as a place of hope, where the new block features mute the harmful voices and allow civil conversation to exist.  It is this hopeful outlook that dominates the majority of the news articles, but the hope is evidence of the problems that plague it.  Without the trolls and harassers, the block features would not be necessary.  However, Twitter is open for anyone to use, so trolls are sadly unavoidable, though, thanks to the new block features, easily ignorable.

And, for @Sakaerion, I am now pointlessly mentioning “waifu” for your amusement.  Are you happy now?

A note to my readers: This essay was for a school assignment, so I had to follow certain guidelines while writing it.  My assignment was to collect a corpus of news discourse about an electronic writing technology of my choice, then analyze the corpus and draw a conclusions on how the technology is presented, all in a multimodal presentation.

News Sources

Chappell, Bill. “Twitter Targets Trolls With New Rules On Abuse.” The Two-Way. NPR. 2 December 2014. Web. 9 December 2014. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/02/368056945/twitter-targets-trolls-with-new-rules-on-abuse

Frizell, Sam. “Twitter Just Made It Easier to Block Haters.” Time.com. 3 December 2014. Web. 3 December 2014. http://time.com/3615775/twitter-block-users-trolls/

Honan, Mat. “Twitter Beefs Up Its Anti-Troll Tools.” Gadget Lab. Wired. 2 December 2014. Web. 9 December 2014. http://www.wired.com/2014/12/twitter-beefs-anti-troll-tools/

Kelly, Samantha Murphy. “Twitter is making it easier to report harassment and block users.” Mashable.com. Mashable. 2 December 2014. Web. 9 December 2014. http://mashable.com/2014/12/02/twitter-harassment-reporting/

Mlot, Stephanie. “Twitter Makes It Easier to Block Abusers.” pcmag.com. PC Magazine. 2 December 2014. Web. 9 December 2014. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2473014,00.asp

Peterson, Andrea. “The Switchboard: Twitter is making it easier to block harassment.” washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post. 3 December 2014. Web. 9 December 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/12/03/the-switchboard-twitter-is-making-it-easier-to-block-harassment/

Winkle, David Van. “Some Twitter Users Are Mad About Gamergate Block Bots. Too Bad We Can’t Hear Them.” themarysue.com. The Mary Sue. 26 November 2014. Web. 9 December 2014. http://www.themarysue.com/twitter-users-mad-about-gamergate-block-bots/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s