Bad Actors: Block or Not?

So here’s a fun question… Say you’re being harassed or bothered by a single person. Do you block them?

This should be a simple answer, right? Obviously block. If you block, you don’t have to see them, they can’t get to you, it’s great. Except, as anyone who’s been harassed will tell you, if the person is particularly an asshole, they will make more accounts with which to try and contact you! I’m not joking when I saw my particular headache has used over 100 separate emails. Even if you report them to the email services as soon as possible, some will tell you “There’s nothing we can do to prevent abuse.”

That’s a different issue for another post. This one is … do I block or not?

The ‘dude’ in this story is an amalgamation of at least five separate men, all of whom did the same thing, and all of whom claim to be ‘woke’ feminists. No names are mentioned nor will they be, but I suspect they’ll see themselves…

The ‘splain Drain

There’s no way around this one, and some people I know on Twitter do this. If you block people on an account, they use another. I’ve blocked people for being perpetual mansplainers. Like someone who was offering advice on how to travel after it was mentioned a friend and I were going to a specific location he was familiar with. Now, you’d think “Oh but he meant well, right?” The problem was he had a history of un-thinking hot-takes. We were going to a specific convention (not WordCamp) and we knew we’d be working that con basically 12 hours a day, making notes, recording interviews, and so on. Our goal was not to to that town and party, it was work.

The advice? Lots of places to have fun, how to handle working conventions, etc etc.

Now. Anyone who actually knew us and followed our tweets knew that my friend and I had all that locked down. We’ve worked cons before, ones way the hell bigger than this one, and we knew how to handle ourselves. We knew how to optimize our packing, how to prioritize, and we were not asking for advice or help. Simply, we said we were excited to go to this event.

Again, you could think “Oh but he meant well.” The thing was, he took zero time to read the room. He didn’t scroll back and see the older tweets, he didn’t see any of the conversations prior. He saw one moment, and jumped in. All of the other comments were about who we were going to meet/interview, how nice it would be to be at a convention like that, tech talk about devices and charging and packing and carrying. We weren’t going to go to party, we weren’t going to go to fancy restaurants. We had jobs.

If you’re a woman in tech, you’re tired of that behaviour. Because now it’s suddenly your job to roll back, re-explain everything, and thank this person for their time but you’re good. And I have to tell you, it’s exhausting to do that over and over and over. I cannot begin to tell you how many times my reply to someone has been “Thanks, but per the discussion, we’re doing X. Please re-read the whole convo.”

It is an ongoing, perpetual drain that men (and yes, I do call out men here) jump in with ‘help’ without giving anyone the respect and time to actually read the freaking room. They don’t do the research, they don’t read the scroll back, they don’t even ask “Is this all sorted out or can I help?” They assume that you need help, and they believe they’re the one to do it.

Mute Them

I’m sure a lot of guys I know are pissed off at me right now, but guess what buddies? That’s why I mute a lot of you. Some women too, yes, and if a single one of you idiots jumps in with ‘not all men!’ I will escalate and block you, because the ‘all’ isn’t the point. The point is that a majority of men (especially in tech) do this. They are the Hero. The Saviour. The Champion. They can help YOU!

So when people, of any gender, jump into my timeline and offer advice where they clearly have not read a blessed thing, I mute them. The guy I’m talking about who mansplained? Wanna know what he did? He kept on explaining how he was trying to help. My friend told him “Thanks but no thanks.” and I didn’t reply at all, but he went on. So I blocked him. And that sucked, because he was someone I did like as an acquaintance. I’d even gave him asked-for advice to get a better job. He has one now, and I’m happy for him.

Anyway. Blocked him, moved on, and a couple years later he had yet another hot-take which was also entirely wrong. It really doesn’t matter what the subject was, but what matters is I was complaining about a stupid part of a contract that told me I was to do thing A in advance of a release but also not to do thing A until after the release.

A very confused Nicole Haught, using the confused math meme format.

So I complained about this on twitter, remarking how daft it was. One of the blokes I’d muted hopped on the reply-train to tell me that’s because I wasn’t really part of the process.

Repeat that meme above, eh. Signed contract. Told I was supposed to to X for the process, but also not to do it… And if you’re wondering “Mika, didn’t you block him?” yes, yes I did. He used another account to contact me with another bad take. A 100% incorrect take, born of his own ignorance about the subject matter and the contract. I replied, correcting his assumption (and at that time not realizing who he was).

The next reply from him was that he actually had understood but he wanted to say something ‘different.’ At that point I thought ‘this sounds like one of those guys …’ and I looked at the account. Oh yes, it was. But I thought maybe he was redeemable, maybe he’d changed, and I asked him if he had any experience or expertise in this area at all (it’s not WordPress related). That reply was the nail in the coffin. He said it was a joke, he offered to explain the joke, and he said I knew who he was, and his credentials were available.

Right. I replied, told him the joke wasn’t funny and if it needed to be explained, it was a bad joke, and I muted him.

My thought process was as follows:

  1. Someone who always replies with ‘jokes’ isn’t someone I feel like listening to.
  2. People who reply constantly with ‘jokes’ aren’t listening to me in the first place, they’re listening for bullet points they can joke about.
  3. The ‘it was a joke’ defence suggests it wasn’t a joke, he knew that, and he’s hurt I called him out.
  4. Anyone who tells me his credentials are online, and yet flat-out cannot be bothered to correct his assumptions about mine is disrespectful.
  5. I already blocked his personal account.

Why not block?

Well. As you can see from this story, I had already blocked him and he was using a secondary account to follow me and comment on things. Did I know, prior to the conversation, that he was in charge of that account? Not at all. I had no reason to look. Now that I have looked, I see his feed is still filled with low-key racism and ignorance all over the damn place. He probably doesn’t even see that, and if he figures out this post is talking about him, he’s probably livid.

But again, this isn’t about Mr. Mansplainer, it’s about why I didn’t block him right away. I muted him.

I didn’t block him because I don’t want to encourage him to make a third account (or use another one he already has) to try and talk to me. I just don’t want to hear from him.

And that is a decision that women online make every day. We recognize that blocking people just makes them madder and that sometimes they jump around and use more accounts to be jerks. It’s happened time and again to me, I’m sure it will again, and it’s why I heavily mute people all the time.

Amusingly enough, I’ve been blocked by a couple people I’ve muted, one of whom screamed murder because I didn’t accept his DMs. I don’t accept DMs from anyone I don’t follow for a reason: I’m tired of people being assholes. So it wasn’t personal, John Doe, but way go.

Okay but … How can I mute on my site?

You mean comments and contact forms? Good question!

First? Turn off comments and remove your contact form. You don’t need them most of the time. If you do want them, for the love of the flying spaghetti monster, use the comment moderation tools! In WordPress go to Settings > Discussion. Now, add in their info. Twitter handles and emails go directly into the Disallowed list. First names (especially if they’re common) go into the moderation list.

But this is also where I’m kind of a bad person. See, if I have someone who is a jerk in emails and I know they may use a contact form, but as I’ve been saying since 2014, you should be able to blackhole their messages. By blackhole I mean their emails should appear to be sent, but you never see them.

In short? They’re treated like spam. This sometimes has the side effect of them being flagged as spam elsewhere, which is why I’m kind of a bad person, but to be honest I don’t care at this point. I want them to go away.

The downside to this is a lot of plugins don’t have a way to do this. I have spent a lot of time writing code for Contact Forms that actually blocks people (or spams them) when they’re people I’m done wasting my time with. I do think more contact forms need to make this a built in option. “Use your Disallowed lists to block …” but that is a different conversation.

How can I make sure I’m not muted?

If you’ve gotten this far, and you’re angry or you think I’m an asshole for blocking you or posting ‘about’ you, first you should know this: this post is actually about five separate guys. So if you’re seeing ‘you’ in this, you’re not alone, and I’m probably not the only person who wrote you off. Here’s my advice:

  1. Think before you reply. Read the tweet/post, look at the other replies or the followup posts. If you’re not sure, err on the side of respectful caution.
  2. Stop all ‘hot takes’ and ‘joke’ replies unless you know the other person really well.
  3. If you met someone at a WordCamp or chatted online, you DO NOT actually know them really well! You are causal acquaintances.
  4. If someone tells you ‘that isn’t a funny joke’ you reply “Sorry.” and shut the hell up.
  5. If you have to explain the joke, you screwed up, it wasn’t funny, and you’re the one in the wrong.
  6. If someone blocks your account do not use a second account to get around it.
  7. If you’re super mad that someone disagreed with you, walk away. You don’t owe them your time.
  8. If you’re blocked, don’t ask why you’ve been blocked.

Now once in a while people will hit me up and ask why they were muted/blocked. I’ve replied to one of them, and that was because I took one look and thought “Hang on, I like him! What the hell?” And I looked and found out my old block tool had caught him for retweeting someone I’d blocked (he was explaining why the other guy was a dingus). I’ve turned that off.

And I know someone is thinking “Wait, you said don’t ask.” Here’s the thing, that person I unblocked? Did not ask! He just pinged in another venue and said “Hey, I read about your dad dying and I wanted to say how sorry I am. You always talked about him so kindly. I would have tweeted but apparently I’m blocked. I’m sorry for whatever I said.”

Isn’t that nice? It caught my attention. I looked, I unblocked. Because that was someone who acted like a human, didn’t expect a goddamn thing from me, and wanted to treat me like a human.

It’s tragic that acting like that is rare.




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