How to Get Blocked (and Not Blocked) by a CFI Twitter Account

January 17, 2013

As there is a lot of heated back-and-forth going on within the skepto-atheosphere, Twitter has become perhaps the prime arena for arguments and debates. Not all of it is constructive, of course, and some of it is downright abusive, and it can be hard to know what crosses the line from criticism (well-meaning or otherwise) to raw hectoring or simply being hurtful.

As communications director for CFI, I am usually the person running the official CFI Twitter account (@center4inquiry), and other CFI related accounts are helmed by relevant staff. Lately, in the midst of the aforementioned heated back-and-forth, I've deemed a handful of Twitter users to have crossed the line from disagreement to abuse. And in a small number of cases, I've blocked them from interacting with the CFI account.

This has caused a little bit of consternation, as I have not been explicit as to what criteria I've been using to do so, and it's totally fair for folks to wonder what that is. Until recently, the criteria has been simply what I personally deem unacceptable. Discussing it with management, however, we've decided that we need to be more specific, and set out an official policy concerning conflict on Twitter. So that's what we did. And we even used Twitter-the-company's own rules as a starting point.

I want to be clear about something first. Blocking someone on Twitter is not a kind of censorship. No one is prevented from saying anything on Twitter if they're blocked. They are simply barred from direct interaction with the person who's blocked them, an opting-out of further contact. But it is a way of ending a discussion or argument, so it's a legitimate question as to what will get you blocked by CFI Twitter accounts.

Okay, so, we have the entire policy posted here, and it applies to all CFI Twitter accounts, be they of local branches, programs, campaigns, or what have you.

I'll give you TL;DR version of the policy here:

1) If you violate Twitter's own rules of conduct, by doing things like impersonating accounts, make threats, reveal someone's private information, or do other spammy things that Twitter itself would flag, you will be blocked. 

2) Additionally, if you make derogatory slurs about someone's race or sexual orientation or something like that, or if you persistently badger us, you will be blocked. 

Indeed, "block and ignore" is Twitter's own advice about handling this kind of thing.

But of course, we are the Center for Inquiry, and we want to use Twitter in a spirit that errs on the side of the free exchange of ideas, even if we, or I, don't like those ideas.

In this way, our policy is actually more lenient than what I had been doing on my own. For example, if a Twitter user had been bad-mouthing a CFI staff member just to get a rise out of us, I'd block them. Not to "censor" anyone, but to get the ugliness out of the Twitter feed that I see for so much of my day, to opt out of being a part of whatever exchange these tweets are attempting to generate. But that won't fly anymore under this new policy, and I'm just going to have to suck it up. I may still ignore those kinds of tweets, but they won't result in being blocked.

I don't think I was wrong to block those who I felt warranted it, but I'm also glad to have a firmer policy in place so I no longer have to wonder about it. 

Of course, there will be choices to be made as to what constitutes a violation of the policy, and everyone will have a different perspective, but it's certainly a much clearer way of going about the use of Twitter in this tumultuous environment.   

And it probably doesn't need to be said, but just in case, problematic Twitter exchanges are by far the exception. The vast, vast majority of the interactions I have on Twitter running the CFI account are positive and informative, and I'm very glad we're so heavily engaged in this platform.

That's all. Go back to your tweets.