Every day, a new fight breaks amongst Indonesian Twitter users. This one particular riot, though, screams entitlement loud and clear.
On the first week of 2020, amidst numerous debate and opinions on massive flooding in Jakarta, some Twitter users were raising hell over Blockchain. Just to be clear, it was not the cryptocurrency-related one but a completely different technological invention.
Twitter Block Chain (which will be addressed as Blockchain in this piece) is a browser extension developed by devFluid that will automatically block the followers and followings of a Twitter user when activated. It aims to help “users who are likely to be, or currently are being dog-piled.” A magic spell to dismiss all your bullies and haters in a snap. Massblocking tool is not a new technology. During the Gamergate controversy, Randi Harper invented Good Game Auto Blocker (ggautoblocker) that lists and blocks users who are likely to participate in the harassment campaign.
For some users, though, this extension worked more as a Go-Clean helper that simplified their timeline spring cleaning. Popular motion artist Yudhistira “Izzy” Israel, who is better known as VNGNC on the Internet, chainblocked the controversial influencer Karin Novilda or Awkarin, and all her followers on Twitter.
I tried to look for earlier online altercation between them, but none came up. Izzy called Karin out several times, but the 22 years old self-proclaimed activist never responded. There was no “my group vs. your group” kind of brawl even though some of Izzy’s followers mocked Karin’s alleged plagiarism. In this case, Karin should be the one who chainblocks Izzzy as she was the one being dogpiled.
However, the relationship between humans and technologies is not a deterministic nor fatalistic one. Hutchby (2001) proposed the technological affordances theory: the possibilities for action that technology offers, and how the human users interpret them. Rather than blindly following the already imposed role, users challenge and negotiate their own interpretation of how to utilise a technological artefact. For Izzy, Blockchain was not a bully-repellent plugin. It became a means to control his Twitter audiences.
“I think blockchain (the twitter plugin, not the crypto) is great. It gives people power over their audience,” he tweeted.
Other users, @keinesasih and @skeletale for example, followed Izzy’s move. The two chainblocked followers of several accounts — including Awkarin –then explained what they did to their remaining followers. I assume many other popular users (it feels wrong to address them as selebtwit or Twitter celebrities somehow) also used this extension but kept it to themselves.
Both users are famous for being outspoken and not afraid to call-out users with problematic online behaviour (misogynists, homophobes, bigots, the Pick-Mes, etc.). Being loud and confrontational on Twitter will certainly give you exposure and make you visible to one of the most repulsive Internet user groups: edgy accounts.
For the sake of what, exactly?
There are many reasons why people fight on social media. Most people are fighting for what they believe as a good cause, from clarifying misunderstanding, disagreement, calling out problematic behaviours, to correcting mis/disinformation. But for some, they just love to wreak havoc and gain satisfaction from it.
People call these type of users with many names: trolls, edgy users, shitposter, etc. Even though each of those terms actually have different meanings, they are usually conflated one with another. However, there is a common link between all of them: to provoke emotional reactions in their target(s) through various methods.
When trolls relentlessly insult and taunt; shitposters delude your notifications with nonsensical responses; while edgelord or edgy users will try to engage you in a pointless debate that will most likely end up in name-calling. Compared to the other two, edgy users are more dangerous.
Edgy is an Internet slang commonly used as an insult for someone trying to look cool or badass by acting contrarian. But lately, the term starts including people who make terrible jokes claimed as “dark jokes.” They find satisfaction from people’s — especially their targets’ –retaliation and strong responses. Edgy users usually consider themselves as iconoclasts revealing the target’s hypocrisy and double standard.
When the targets decide to disengage and block the edgy users from accessing their contents, they will do everything to get it back. At this point, they usually start trolling and harassing; tagging the targets (who can no longer see their mentions/posts) on unrelated posts or simply calling them names. They refused to be deprived of the power to argue and provoke, or to feel edgy and smart by being contrarian.
Edgy users consider blocking an act of cowardice, especially when “innocent people” (read: their following/followers) are involved. When these edgy users realised that they are being chainblocked, they announced it to their followers who later confirmed and expressed their confusion. People started posting screenshots of being blocked, usually accompanied by “I don’t even know [user] why am I being blocked, @[edgy user]” narratives. Some users might perceive the screenshot as a status symbol, putting them in the same position as the edgy users they followed; while for some others, they just sought attention.
This “being blocked” fiasco baffles me. Why does being blocked by strangers — especially one they usually fight with –on social media make some people angry?
One good thing about Twitter is the absence of reciprocity requirement (Marwick and boyd, 2010). When you attempt communication with other users, they do not have to respond. People can opt to ignore all mentions and DMs addressed to them without any consequences. Marwick and boyd (2010) also pointed out that usually, there is no social expectation of reciprocation. However, in this case, I might have found the unusual ones who think reciprocity is necessary.
The edgy users feel entitled to the target’s response and attention. This is why being blocked gets on their nerves. The targets should never ignore them, they have to react and fight back, even for the arguments or opinions the target never made in the first place. The act of blocking can be seen as the ultimate refusal. The targets no longer want anything to do with the blocked users, including their followers.
Even though many of the chainblocked followers claim to be innocent, some of them might be snitches. They might tag screenshot the targets’ tweets and send them to the edgy users, who will use them as ammunition. After all, for Indonesian Twitter users, twitwar is a source of entertainment. They love pitting one user against the other just to have a good laugh or wanting someone to cast the first stone so they can subsequently join in. Blocking them might will ward off snitches and avoid being dragged into an unwanted altercation. They might scream, taunt, and provoke but you can no longer hear their voices.
Everyone has the right to set boundaries and refuse to engage with people they are not comfortable with. Interaction on social media is not an obligation but a matter of choice.
Other arguments frequently used by blocked users are the “curbing free speech” and “weak and not being open-minded.” But is it?
If they are being de-platformed and unable to express their opinions, then yes, blocking curbs free speech. However, these users can still express their discontents and attack the blockers. They are not being stripped of the right to say whatever they like and able to challenge the opinions of others. The only difference is now their voices will never reach their targets. Freedom of speech does not equal freedom of consequences. If you continuously taunt and harass people, don’t be butthurt when they block you.
As for using the block feature to measure one’s open-mindedness, it does not sit right. Do you have to respond to each and every provocation just not to appear close-minded? It is important to note that not all debate or arguments might be useful for both parties.
These days, most debates are more about proving one’s righteousness than trying to understand one another. You have the right not to engage in a debate that will most likely be detrimental to your sanity, especially when the counterpart displays abusive behaviours (e. g. trolling and name-calling).
It is not like one’s going to be safely encased in an echo chamber just by blocking people on Twitter. The world is more than the tweets on your screen. There will always be hoax-spreaders in your family or alumni WhatsApp groups, work colleagues whose ideology is the polar opposite of yours, or friends you might disagree with.
Nobody lives in a completely secluded place where only one voice can be heard. Like it or not, the world is full of unpleasant people and there is nothing we can do about it. However, in the digital space, we are given the power to curate the voices we want to hear. Mute the unpleasant and emotionally abusive ones, listen to the voices that do not intent to harm. It is also important to continuously remind oneself not to be the displeasing voice who drives people to click the Block button.
After all, being blocked does not always mean you are right and people cannot handle the truth; sometimes it is just because you are being an insufferable jerk.
Hutchby, I. (2001) Technologies, Texts, and Affordances. Sociology 35(2):441–456.
Marantz, A. (2019). Anti-social: Online extremists, techno-utopians, and the hijacking of the American conversation. New York: Viking.
Marwick, A. E. and boyd, d. (2010) I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society 20(1):1–20.