• Alison Tennent

Stalk, Block, and Troll

Medium's flawed blocking policy

Photo by Josie Stephens from Pexels free from copyright

Much of the following won't mean a lot to anyone who's not a writer on Medium. So if you're not that creature, my apologies, I promise another more universal post in the next few days.

Stalk, block and troll dotshing

I love having the ability to block people online, and I use that liberally, and for whatever reason I choose, whether on Twitter, Medium, Facebook or any other site.

Life is assuredly too short to waste on content that doesn't align with your ethical standards, or that you find irksome or repetitive, particularly if it's poorly written, or doesn't withstand critical analysis.

It's my Timeline and I'll block if I want to has always been my motto.

I've also genuinely never understood why people become upset at being blocked. Assuming I even notice you've blocked me my reaction will be anything from a smile to a shrug. You're quite entitled not to want to read my words, I genuinely don't mind in the slightest. And if being blocked causes such distress you're probably not cut out for the online life of a writer.

As I mentioned in the Oppression Olympics piece, we all reserve the right to set our own boundaries:

Could there be some correlation between being able to accept being blocked with equanimity and being able to accept that everyone has the right to decide their own boundaries?

Your rights stop where mine start, as it were. And vice versa.

A troll by any other name

Let's also take a moment to consider the word troll. A troll is not someone who disagrees with you, not even necessarily someone who disagrees with you repeatedly. If a reader contends that your work is not worthwhile or your argument unsupported, but makes a cogent case without resorting to feelpinions and ad hominem attacks, they may not be trolling. A troll is someone who has nothing to add to the conversation and whose purpose is only to cause upset of some kind. A person who makes deliberately offensive or provocative posts for the sole purpose of causing distress, offence, anger etc.

On the Medium platform they seem to allow specific trolls to stomp free; some comment serially in a vituperative manner, particularly targeting certain publications, and then swiftly block the writers disallowing any response. Their sole purpose to insult and cause harm, for whatever pleasure that brings them.

One woman in particular is well known for it. It was reading the following article that made me reflect on this issue.

And more than one writer has written about her behaviour:

So if being blocked is not in itself any kind of problem, then who cares if a troll blocks you?


Right. Except, Medium does not allow you to return the favour. Once blocked, you cannot block in return, meaning the troll is free to read your work, and even unblock, snipe, and skulk off again in a stalker-like fashion.

And because you're blocked, you can't report their reply on Medium, or at least not easily. You have to then locate their Medium handle, locate the support button and run the "Are you really sure the generic response didn't fix your problem?" gauntlet in order to report them.

What being unable to report a trollish reply because you're blocked means, in practical terms, is that most don't bother to report those who have blocked them.

And that can, and in this case does, subsequently mean they are then free to continue relentlessly harassing writer after writer - many of whom are not as sanguine about it as I am, and some of whom take her schoolyard taunts quite seriously.

This system, like so much of the world, is apparently set up to favour the offender, not the victim.

If we lived in a reality where people who block first always did so for genuine reasons, it wouldn't be an issue. But sadly, some trolls live by the "stalk, block and roll" rule book, commenting regularly and systematically on many articles, with the sole intention of causing anger, dismay or strife, then blocking when they receive the anticipated desired distress, and moving to the next victim.

In my case, when I laughed at her attempts to rile me, the troll in question blocked me and went on her merry way. I discovered this later, only after I had thought about it and realised that her name looked familiar. I then remembered that she'd commented pointlessly on my work before, so to avoid future babbling and burbling I went back to block her. Which is when I realised that a) she'd blocked me (wonderful) and b) I can't return the favour (not so wonderful).

Because serial trolls just keep on trolling, she has absolutely undoubtedly moved on to various other writers. And since I cannot block her in return she can creepily snipe at me and stalk my work then run away again, should she choose to.

It does seem a rather obvious design flaw. You should always be able to return the gift of blocking, and surely a few tech tweaks would resolve this issue.

So, Medium, you've made many changes that have gone widely unappreciated in the community. Would you consider making a helpful change?

Allow writers to block those who have blocked them.

It's fair, it's obvious and would prevent article stalking by creepy trolls.

Thanks, as always, for reading, feel free to offer comments, and do feel free to disagree.

I promise not to block you.

Unless you're trolling.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay, free from copyright

Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, April 2021

Wishing you, as always, fair winds and a following sea.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash free from copyright

Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but Medium or The Garrulous Glaswegian, this work may have been plagiarized.

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