The block tool on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, will be removed, according to owner Elon Musk.
“Block is going to be deleted as a ‘feature’, except for DMs,” Musk wrote in a post to X on Friday. “It makes no sense.”
The block button allowed users to prevent others from seeing or responding to any of their content. Leaving blocking intact for direct messages, also known as DMs, would allow users to control who can contact them privately.
As a substitute for blocking, Musk said in a subsequent post, users will be able to use the mute button. Muting an account prevents that user’s posts from appearing in one’s timeline but it’s still possible to see them by clicking on links, and the muted user can still view the content of the user who muted them.
An email to the company’s press relations department did not elicit a response.
Before taking control of Twitter in October 2022, Musk was known as a prolific user of the block button, typically using it on those who criticized him or his companies. In February, Musk said he was lifting all of those blocks, adding, “Negative feedback is a good thing.”.
Courtney Radsch, a fellow at UCLA’s Institute for Technology, Law and Policy and director of the Center for Journalism and Liberty, said the decision does not bode well for harassment on the platform and will hurt the user experience and harm women and people of color specifically.
“They’ve taken various steps over the years to try to implement tools and processes like blocking, muting and other user controls that puts the ability to control a user experience in the hands of individuals,” Radsch said. “Getting rid of block takes away an important tool for combating online harassment or having a more positive user experience.”
She said muting would not provide the same protection, saying the two tools “serve different purposes.”
Since Musk acquired what was known as Twitter, he has implemented many policy changes in an attempt to redefine the platform and reinvent its business. In Radsch’s view, these policy changes have resulted in endless controversies and a mass egress of users.
“I think that it’s really problematic to see, again, a major policy change being made in real time without due assessment, or consultation, especially given all of the work on online harassment that has been done over the years,” Radsch said. “I think that this will just continue the exodus away from the platform.”
Viktorya Vilk, PEN America’s director for digital safety and free expression, released a statement admonishing Musk for the removal, saying he seems “determined” to make X “the least safe and least equitable social media platform.”
“Removing the block button — a critical tool that so many writers, journalists, artists, and other users need to protect themselves from attempts to silence them with hate and harassment — would just be adding insult to injury,” said Vilk in her statement. “Putting yet another nail in the coffin of a platform that is no longer Twitter, either in name or in spirit.”
Users on the platform have been speaking out against the decision and the environment it will create, likening it to horror movies or home invasions.
Among those protesting was Ross Gerber. He is an investment advisor who has been a major holder of Tesla stock and at one point sought a seat on the company’s board of directors. He predicted the change would “degrade the platform.”
“A mute is much different than a block,” Gerber said in the post. “We should be able to control who sees our content and avoid abusers.”