Despite the billionaire’s reasoning, the ability to block other people has been a staple on social platforms since the early MySpace days in 2006. Many see Musk’s decision as yet another ill-considered publicity stunt, so are questioning his reasons for removing such an important safety feature.
Some of the other recent big changes to the platform have caused their fair share of security and privacy headaches, too. If Musk follows through with his decision to eliminate the block button, it could lead to even more serious consequences for your digital privacy and security, and not just because you won’t be able to keep trolls and spam bots at bay anymore.
Why Does Musk Want to Remove the Blocking Feature on X?
In June 2023, Musk tweeted, “Blocking public posts makes no sense. It needs to be deprecated in favor of a stronger form of mute.” He didn’t provide any more details, such as what a stronger muting option would look like. Fast forward to August, and news outlets are exploding with chatter about Elon’s latest tweet declaring he’s removing the feature.
In it, the X owner says he’s removing the block feature across the platform except for in direct messages (DMs), followed by “It makes no sense” again. Interestingly, former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey agreed with the move.
When asked, Musk’s only response to those questioning the move was that they should use the mute feature instead. Some speculate this change is in line with the billionaire’s views on free speech, which he has been vocal about since taking over the social platform. Ironically, and as many were quick to point out, the beacon of free speech himself has used the block feature plenty of times too. He’s even gone as far as banning journalists from his platform before.
So far, Musk hasn’t given any details on when the feature will be removed or what will happen to accounts you’ve previously blocked on the platform. Given that his only alternative is for you to use the mute feature, we can only hope X will at least automatically mute everyone’s previously blocked accounts.
If I Can Mute People, Why Is the Blocking Feature Still Important?
Right now, X’s blocking feature helps people prevent stalkers, doxxers, and spam bots from harassing them and their followers. While social media is considered a public space, the internet is filled with extreme views and dangerous people. This is why early social sites quickly moved past creating completely open and unmoderated spaces. Instead, platforms provide tools that let people choose who they want to share their identities and personal lives with.
X currently has block, mute, and limit features that provide you with different ways to restrict other people’s opportunities to interact with you and how much you see of them. Let’s quickly break it down:
- Mute: Lets you hide an account’s posts and notifications from your view, without you having to unfollow or block them.
- Block: Gives you the ability to prevent an account from following you, seeing your posts, tagging you or mentioning your username, replying to you, or sending you DMs. It also prevents their posts from appearing on your timeline and prevents you from tagging them.
- Limit: Lets you control who can reply to your posts by letting you choose either everyone, those you follow, or those you select.
As you can see, muting someone doesn’t prevent them from seeing your posts or your profile, replying to and sharing your posts, or tagging you. When you’ve muted an account, you simply won’t get notifications when they try to interact with you. Their replies will be hidden but you can click on them to view them.
Compared to what blocking currently provides, the mute feature isn’t capable of protecting X users adequately.
Removing the Blocking Feature Creates Opportunities for Malicious Behavior
While people should be able to publicly voice their opinions in a healthy manner, some seem incapable of doing so online. The blocking feature reduces the risk of people with extreme and opposing views targeting one another. It also protects their followers, as people with similar opinions tend to group together online.
In the past, large communities weaponized false reporting and harassment on the platform by sharing the profiles of people they disliked with each other. Blocking prevents that from happening. It also prevents people and bots from spreading misinformation and spam by commenting on popular posts as whoever owns the posts can simply block them.
The block button also easily prevents malicious people from hijacking conversations on someone else’s posts. This doesn’t just protect the person who blocked the malicious accounts, but also their followers and anyone else who sees their posts.
Unless Musk goes through with his initial idea to strengthen the mute feature, X users will be left without a real way to manage the inevitable flood of toxic behavior.
No Block Button? No More Official App Store Privileges
Another big issue Musk might not have considered before his big announcement is that it could lead to major app stores removing X. Apple’s App Store guidelines currently require that apps with user-generated content provide the ability to block abusive users. While the wording more likely refers to the platform itself having this ability and not its users, it’s possible Apple’s legal teams could interpret it differently.
Google’s Play Store policy’s wording is more direct, and removing a blocking feature definitely violates the rules. Google’s policy center specifically says apps with user-generated content must provide ongoing moderation that provides “an in-app system for blocking content and users.” The “in-app system” part is key here.
Although their security measures aren’t perfect, both major app stores still provide higher-quality safety features than any third-party app stores. If X gets the boot, it’ll create a slew of new security headaches as malicious actors use the confusion to spread fake apps and malicious download files. Not to mention that wherever the X apps end up, they certainly won’t be backed by safety policies that enforce protective measures like the blocking feature.
This isn’t the first safety feature Musk has targeted. Earlier in 2023, Musk announced X will remove SMS-based two-factor authentication for everyone except verified accounts. The change went into effect in March 2023 and means that in order to keep using the security feature, you now have to pay a monthly subscription fee. While it’s true that SMS two-factor authentication is no longer considered secure enough, the move stumped cybersecurity experts.
How to Take Control of Your Social Media Settings
X’s block feature is extremely useful, but you still have some options available to you. The platform has other safety settings like the mute and limit features. Here are your options:
- Set your profile to private: This is probably the most extreme privacy measure you can take on X. The downside is it will limit your chances of gaining new followers and prevent you from interacting with anyone that doesn’t follow you. On the flip side, it’ll also prevent anyone you don’t want to interact with from seeing your profile or your posts, even on search engines. To do this, head to your settings menu, select Settings and privacy, click on Privacy and safety, then Audience and tagging. Check the Protect your posts option.
- Manage interactions on your posts: When you draft a new post on X, you can choose who can see the post by either selecting Everyone (default) or Circle (you can select which accounts are part of your Circle). You can also decide who’s allowed to reply to your post by selecting either Everyone, People you follow, or Only people you mention.
Tip: The Circle feature is limited as you can only add 150 accounts and you can only be part of one Circle. Anything you post to your Circle can’t be reposted or shared either. Just your Circle members will be able to reply to your Circle posts and their followers won’t see your post or their replies.
- Adjust your discoverability settings: X uses your email address and phone number to make your account discoverable to others. If someone has your email address or phone number in their contacts, they may also find your account when they upload those contacts to X. To remove this, navigate to Privacy and safety, select Discoverability and contacts, and make sure those options are deselected.
- Change your mute settings: You’ll find all the mute options in the settings menu under Privacy and safety. Click on Mute and block to open new settings options. From there, you can see which accounts you’ve muted and blocked (for now), add specific words you want to mute, and select which type of accounts you don’t want to get notifications from. It’s a good idea to select anyone with a new account and/or default profile photo.
- Adjust the content you see: In the Privacy and settings menu, click on Content you see to decide what X shows you based on your preferences. Here you can uncheck the option to display media that may contain sensitive content if you don’t want to see potentially harmful content like pornography or gore.
Use Dependable Security Software to Help Maintain Your Privacy
Outside of X’s privacy settings, you can take a few more precautions to ensure your safety. You’ve probably heard by now not to tag your location or post media others can use to identify you or where you are. That’s great advice but internet trolls have crafty ways of finding more information about your identity and whereabouts. They can use your IP address, data breaches, malware, and other data points to de-anonymize you.
One way to combat this is to use reliable independent privacy tools. Much like you use a reputable antivirus to protect your devices against harmful programs, you can use CyberGhost VPN to protect your connection against threats like DDoS, Man-in-the-Middle attacks, session hijacking, and more.
When you connect to a CyberGhost server, we change your IP address and encrypt your connection with unbreakable 256-bit AES VPN encryption. This prevents others from snooping on your online activity or using your IP address to help pinpoint your location. You can also use CyberGhost VPN to secure your connection on free Wi-Fi networks which are generally unsafe.
Privacy Is Your Right and You Have a Choice
I won’t tell you to delete the platform. After Musk’s takeover of X (Twitter at the time), many users decided to ditch the app in favor of other online spaces. Yet, X has a unique appeal and it’s hard to leave a community of followers you’ve built up over years. That said, I will encourage you to weigh your options.
If you decide to stick with X, consider taking precautions to protect yourself. You can manage your privacy settings, use independent privacy tools to protect your device and identity, and maintain alternative backup options to reach those you care about if you need to.