Why Elon Musk's decision to drop the blocking feature on X matters

Users are unhappy as the feature helps remove unwanted posts, including spam, trolls and content deemed inappropriate or offensive

Dropping the 'block' feature on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, would add to a long list of sweeping changes Elon Musk has enforced since he took over the company in October. AFP
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Elon Musk on Friday said that the “block” feature on X will soon no longer be available for users, the latest in a list of moves the billionaire has made since taking over the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

The world's wealthiest person said “block is going to be deleted as a 'feature', except for DMs”, or direct messages, which is how users can privately send messages to each other, similar to other platforms.

He was responding to a post from Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, a group that promotes the world's biggest electric car manufacturer, in which Mr Musk is chief executive.

Why did Elon Musk decide to remove the block feature?

Pressed on why he decided to do this, Mr Musk responded: “It makes no sense”.

Mr Musk is famous for cryptic messages, often with little to no explanation. But given his determination to turn X around and remaining hands-on despite handing over the reins to a new chief executive, it can be expected that there will be developments regarding this soon.

He is not a fan of blocking, and he has made this known in the past months. This is also not the first time Mr Musk has considered to remove blocking. In June, he said “a stronger form of mute” should be employed in place of blocking – in which he also said blocking made no sense.

Again, he did not elaborate. He has also complained that giant block lists “are problematic” as “they mess up the recommendation system & create a DDoS vector”.

Why is blocking important?

Mr Musk said that users will “still be able to mute accounts and block users” from direct messaging.

However, there is a difference between muting and blocking accounts: muting removes the muted account's posts from one's own feed, while not unfollowing them. Also, muting does not stop an account from interacting, viewing or sharing one's posts, whereas blocking prevents all that.

The block button is a critical component in applications, most notably in email and social media. It helps users remove unwanted posts and followers, including spam messages, trolls, users who harass and other content they deem inappropriate or offensive.

That said, in an age where users and society have heightened sensitivities, the removal of the block feature will be a blow. Blocking has also been used to remove unwanted ads or promoters on feeds, or just boycott brands in a show of solidarity from users.

“I’m not going to pay to be trolled ... that’s what block allows us to stop,” user Renée Hoenderkamp said, referring to the revised paid tiers Mr Musk introduced on X.

How have users reacted?

As with his other controversial decisions, the move sparked reactions, most notably from those who were upset.

Tesla owners fired back, saying the block button is “worth having”.

“Unfortunately trolls and spammers come out. Haters will always try to get some fame over trolling accounts and bashing their name through the mud and being able to control the experience matters. At least for reach user,” it said.

Changpeng Zhao, chief executive of the world's biggest cryptocurrency exchange Binance, called on X to focus on other important matters on their platform, including eliminating bots and going after spam problems – the issues the block feature is able to prevent.

“If I don’t have a block button, my comments would be filled with bots, bad actors trying to associate me with hateful content, people trying to promote their content in my comments, NAFO imbeciles spamming with disinformation. Block is necessary,” user WarClandestine responded to Mr Zhao.

What can we expect after all the fuss?

It is unclear when the new policy will be enforced, as Mr Musk, typically, did not elaborate. As of posting time, The National can still see and use the block feature on X.

One option was put on the table by cryptocurrency news site Watcher. Guru, which asked Mr Musk if he would consider to hold a poll, which would decide on whether to uphold the removal of the block feature or make him rescind on it.

Mr Musk has held Twitter polls in the past, including those that consulted users on how much Tesla shares he should sell.

The most notable one had a direct effect on X, when in December he asked users whether he should step down as its chief executive. Users voted yes, and Mr Musk made good on his pledge to abide by the results. In May, he named NBCUniversal's former head of advertising Linda Yaccarino as his successor.

Updated: August 19, 2023, 7:31 AM