When Should You Block a Twitter User?

It's been an interesting few days in my Twitterstream, y'all.  I've been engaged in a bit of a digital slugfest with a guy I'll call Conner in the interest of protecting his identity. 

Conner saw a Tweet sharing a Darcy Mullen bit on the rationale behind flipping learning spaces that referenced me and started throwing haymakers about the complete uselessness of flipping — and of the educators who are exploring it. 

I should have known the conversation was headed nowhere when Conner's first Tweet was, "Talk to cheerleaders and get a cup of Kool-aid.  Is that the intent?"

He followed that up with, "Also enthusiastically awaiting response re: under-theorized, de-politicized "fad" pedagogies."

After seeing his responses, I decided to push back against his approach to learning in social spaces.

I explained — much like I do to the kids in my classroom — that it is only possible to learn from people with different points of view when you see them as partners instead of opponents. 

His response:  "Thinking 'with' folks who help hollow out teachers' work isn't on my agenda.  Call it a character flaw."

So I blocked him.  I figured that anyone who was unwilling to listen with an open mind deserved the same fate as the strippers and spammers — and, strangely enough, Scottsdale periodontists — who swill through my learning stream on a daily basis. 

But I won't lie:  I always feel a little dirty when I block an educator on my blog or in my Twitterstream

I LOVE pushback because it helps me to polish my own thinking — which means I'm always on the lookout for people with different points of view that I can learn from.  And as a guy who believes in the power of collaboration, I'm always somewhat convinced that I have a responsibility to work together with anyone who comes my way.

But I'm also incredibly protective of my learning spaces.  The simple fact of the matter is that I don't have a ton of time for learning — so every time that I turn to my blog or to Twitter, I want to be with people who see me as a learning partner whether they agree with me or not.

When people come along showing a complete disregard for the thoughts of others — call it "working and playing well with others" if you want — I'm simply not going to allow them to ruin my learning. 

And the beauty of digital spaces it that I don't HAVE to let them ruin my learning


I create and control the stream of ideas and individuals that I learn from — and just like making careful choices about who to LET INTO your learning network is an essential skill for learning in today's world, making careful choices about who to exclude from your learning network matters too. 

I generally use the following three criteria before deciding to block someone's voice from my PLN — something I've done fewer than five times in the past five years:

Has the person taken the time to get to know who I am before throwing digital punches?

I first started thinking about blocking Conner when he suggested that Chris Wejr, Darcy Mullen and I were intent on "hollowing out the teaching profession" simply because it showed that he knew almost nothing about us.

Spend any time here on the Radical — or over on the blogs that Darcy and Chris keep — and you'll see that we're pretty reflective dudes that regularly (1). advocate on behalf of the teaching profession and (2). push practice — and practitioners — forward.

I'm also not sure that Conner has read anything that Chris, Darcy or I have written about flipping the classroom — a topic that he obviously cares deeply about — and my guess is that if he had, he would have found more similarities in our positions than differences. 

That means Conner wasn't interested in who WE were as thinkers or as learners.  Instead, he was doing nothing more than reacting to his own preconcieved notions about flipping — and about the people who who support it as a practice. 

Moral of the story: If a person is completely uninterested in YOUR thoughts, don't give them a spot in YOUR learning stream.  

 

Does the person have a blog — or other online space — where they've carefully articulated their thinking BEYOND 140-characters?

Conner's antipathy towards flipping the classroom was SO intense that I wanted to learn a bit more about his thinking.  That's what reflection is all about: Seeking out opposing viewpoints in order to better understand your own.

I couldn't find his blog, though.  It's not linked in his Twitter profile and I couldn't find it by searching the Web. As far as I can tell, Conner isn't starting conversations about his core beliefs beyond Twitter.

Do you see how limiting that really is to me as a learner? 

I want to find partners who are articulating their core beliefs in longer pieces posted in spaces more conducive to extended thinking because THEIR extended thinking forces ME to think about — and to refine and revise — my own positions. 

Long story short: If a person doesn't craft anything beyond 140-character messages, they probably aren't going to push my thinking in meaningful ways — and I'm just not ready to add anyone to my learning stream that isn't going to push my thinking in meaningful ways.

Is there any evidence that this person sees the collaborative potential in conversations?

What finally convinced me that blocking Conner was the right choice for me was his unwillingness to see other people as potential learning partners with ideas worth considering. 

In his mind, he was COMPETING against Chris, Darcy and I.  To him, we were intellectual opponents in some kind of 140-character cage match. 

At one point, I reminded him that he needed to see people with different viewpoints as partners and not enemies.  His response:  "No.  We are not all on the same team.  Teachers subvert their interests in a lot of ways."

What Conner doesn't understand is that learning is COLLABORATIVE, y'all. Anyone who is unwilling to see you as member of their learning team isn't the right person to add to your learning stream.

Why get wrapped up in arguments when there are literally THOUSANDS of partners who are ready and willing to think and to push practice and pedagogy forward TOGETHER?

 

None of this automatically makes Conner a bad guy — or a bad learning partner for someone else. 

Who knows, he might be just the person to push YOU forward.  But I also know that he's not the kind of guy that pushes ME forward — and in the interest of protecting my own learning, I blocked his voice from my stream.

That's a lesson I think anyone learning in networked spaces need to embrace.  No matter how polite we are as a profession, policing your PLN doesn't make you a bad person. 

If someone is polluting your stream — if their contributions are doing nothing to help you to learn and if they've made it clear in interaction-after-interaction that they're not going to change — you're crazy NOT to block them. 

Remember that learning matters — and a learning network can only help you to grow when it's carefully pruned.

Does any of this make sense?

__________________________________

Related Radical Reads:

Slaying Intellectual Dragons

Teaching Students about Collaborative and Competitive Dialogue

The Importance of a PLN

 

 

27 thoughts on “When Should You Block a Twitter User?

  1. Bill Ferriter

    Thanks, Erika…
    I just wanted to raise awareness to the fact that blocking people that are detrimental to your own learning is not rude. Its a part of learning efficiently in social spaces where you dont always get to filter who you interact with. Educators cripple themselves with their polite at all costs ethos in social spaces simply because of the volume of interactions we have. Carefully pruning is essential….
    Rock on,
    Bill

  2. Erika Jordan

    Bill,
    Thank you for the excellent reminder for managing the stream of information that we encounter through our constant connectivity. This models exactly the type of citizenship, digital or f2f, that we want to promote with our students. Value others opinion, learn about other’s view points and origins, and seek collaborative solutions/discussions. Isn’t this what I want my students to practice daily? You eliminated the “weed” from your PLN and through a series of efforts you avoided stunting your growth.
    I think I feel a great mini-lesson on information fluency and collaboration.

  3. Alicemercer

    There is a way to “step into” a twitter convo like that without being an a$$. This post, http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/2012/05/05/do-you-have-customers-or-students-in-your-classroom-and-school/ was based on an #edchat that I horned in on. What you don’t see in the post was the back an forth on Twitter.
    Couple things, to make my point I explicitly depersonalized what I said. I acknowledged that the other guy did care about students, I just thought his word choice was poor. I explicitly said I was pushing back on his thinking, and why, and I also let him know I was writing about this. Lastly, in the post and on Twitter, I was clear that I was walking into the middle of the conversation, and may have missed something.

  4. MarkW

    I think this following Tedx talk is relevant to the discussions being held here about the necessity of making sure we don’t eliminate the voices in our PLN and elsewhere that provide opposing viewpoints. In the digital world in which we live, we may actually have to start seeking out contrary voices if we’re to maintain intellectual integrity. We need to extend our filter bubble as far as we can while not letting unadulterated pollutants in. Bit of a max-min problem I guess.
    “Your filter bubble is your own personal, unique universe of information that you live in online. What’s in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But you don’t decide what gets in — and more importantly, you don’t see what gets edited out.” ~Eli Pariser
    http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

  5. Shareski

    For me a couple of ideas stand out.
    1. Twitter is an awful place for conversation. It’s like trying to have a debate or intelligent discussion at a rock concert.
    2. Civil Discourse is in short supply. Being able to disagree vehemently with someone and yet keeping it respectful and fruitful is something not many can do. Anytime I think I might be able to do it with someone who opposes my view, I relish that chance. Sounds like that didn’t happen here.
    3. Your space is your space just like your home is like your home. You invite whomever like it by whatever standards you choose.
    4. The beauty of online is it allows us to have a variety of associations and relationships both strong and weak. I try and insure I have a number of dissenting voices nearby to challenge me but I control the degree to which I interact. That’s both safe and useful. Being able to block someone in a certain space doesn’t mean you have to totally ignore them particularly if you’re mature enough to be able to find the grain of truth they may be sharing. Again, not suggesting that’s the case here but because someone’s a jerk on twitter might not mean they don’t have a point. The empowerment comes from knowing it’s not all or none. Find the ways in which you can still learn or be challenged.

  6. Carolyn Durley

    Hi Bill, after the dust has settled, I have had a chance to reflect on the reaction to Darcy’s positive and insightful post.
    My initial reaction was an emotional one and I have learned not to tweet from this frame of mind. My second reaction was confusion and disbelief. During my time on Twitter, I have disagreed with people and been disagreed with. While at times it is challenging to have your ideas rejected, it is always done with respect, dignity and an over- riding kindness. You can feel this, even through the disembodied computer. Overall I have been impressed with the quality of feedback I get on Twitter and the depth of the human touch. So when the tone of a person’s Tweets stands out like a sore thumb, it is both shocking and surprising.
    My point being, overall Twitter is a very happy and safe place to share your ideas. Secondly, tweeter’s who are not that type will stand out like a sore thumb (it will be easy to spot them!). Lastly if you feel uncomfortable in an exchange get out. And so yes I agree with you Bill, if someone is polluting your stream, clean it up.
    best,
    c

  7. Bill Ferriter

    Janet wrote:
    The other day, I talked to someone who didnt want to vote for a
    candidate because his wifes clothes were too expensive. Had that person
    been on my twitter feed, he/she would have been blocked.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    This made me laugh, Janet — but its also incredibly instructive: Just because someone has a Twitter account DOESNT mean that they are automatically worth listening to!
    Thats no different than the people that we meet in person, but for whatever reason, people get really touchy when you openly block people in social spaces.
    I wonder what the difference is. Why are people fine when we refuse to interact with unhealthy people in our faculty rooms but openly offended when we refuse to interact with the same kind of people in online spaces?
    Thats got me thinking….
    Bill

  8. Bill Ferriter

    Michelle wrote:
    Hmmm… I wonder if I have already guessed who Conner is, because he sounds like someone I blocked a while back.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Heres the crazy part, Michelle: Ive heard from about 10 different people who have blocked Conner at some point in the past. Apparently, his approach rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
    Which becomes another interesting strand of conversation: Just because you have ACCESS to social learning spaces doesnt mean that youll have INFLUENCE in those spaces. My guess is thats a lesson that we need to be teaching our students. In a world where everyone can have a voice, learning how to leverage that opportunity to drive change towards an agenda that you believe in is probably going to be a game-changing skill.
    Anyway…thanks for stopping by,
    Bill

  9. Bill Ferriter

    Mark wrote:
    Blocking someone on twitter I liken to refusing to listen to those
    negative teachers in the workroom who constantly rag on students, other
    teachers, the admin., parents, etc. and for every positive solution you
    offer, they simply tear it down.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    This is a good analogy, Mark….
    Whats weird is that blocking someone in Twitter is almost always perceived as a MUCH bigger deal. Anytime I even talk about it, people bristle. There seems to be this sense that blocking someone means that youre unwilling to listen to ideas that are different from your own. In reality, there are so many people to choose from that you can almost always find people with ideas that are different from your own!
    I dont need Conner to have my thinking about flipping challenged. Ill find someone else to fill that role — and Ill learn in a positive environment while Im at it.
    Thanks for stopping by,
    Bill

  10. Bill Ferriter

    Jeremy wrote:
    When your goal is to collaborate in online spaces, there needs to be a
    constructive approach. Flamers, nay-sayers and haters arent building
    anything and arent online for the same purposes as we are. I dont
    think there should be any hesitation from blocking them; their places
    can be filled with more positive contributes very easily.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    Hey Jeremy — thanks for stopping by.
    As for your flipping comments, I share a lot of the same feelings. Planning on trying some flipping this year, though — and think Ive got a good plan that Ill write about soon.
    The most important part of your comment is the last line, though. People who have criticized my decision to block Conner keep suggesting that Im somehow living in an echo chamber and am unwilling to listen to different viewpoints.
    What they dont get is that Conner isnt the ONLY person questioning flipping in the Twitterstream. In fact, he isnt even one of a thousand people questioning flipping in the Twitterstream. In fact, hes not even the most thoughtful or articulate person questioning flipping in the Twitterstream.
    Blocking someone who is a wad doesnt mean youre unwilling to listen. Instead, it means youre unwilling to listen to someone who isnt being helpful.
    Sure, we have to be careful to find dissenting voices when were building our networks. But there are SO MANY voices to choose from that blocking one jerk doesnt limit anyones ability to have a balanced learning network.
    Rock on,
    Bill

  11. Bill Ferriter

    George wrote:
    So from that experience, I have learned to ask questions and think
    critically about initiatives in education, but do not criticize until I
    see it or put it in action.
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    Im with you here, George. All that I ever really ask of critics of anything that Im exploring is that they be willing to listen with an open mind. In the end, a willingness to listen is more important to me than anyones position on a topic. When people are willing to listen, theyre more likely to spot the gaps in my thinking and to push in a way that might just help me to grow as a thinker.
    People who dont listen arent worth my time simply because theyre not interested in finding out where my thinking is and moving me forward.
    These are the kinds of lessons that I think our kids need to learn about learning networks — both those they create in digital spaces and that they maintain in face to face settings.
    Thanks for stopping by,
    Bill

  12. Janet Abercrombie

    I think it’s as appropriate to block people as it is to not accept phone calls or return emails. You’re correct: We need to hear ideas from all sides, but we only have time to hear thoughtful ideas.
    I often say to another, “Tell me about that.” I want to know if the person has sources or is venting. Then, I decide whether or not I want future conversations with the person.
    With elections coming up, I have many opportunities to surround myself with those who disagree with my core beliefs. I only continue conversing with a few of them. At the same time, I only talk politics with a few people who tend to vote like I do.
    The other day, I talked to someone who didn’t want to vote for a candidate because his wife’s clothes were too expensive. Had that person been on my twitter feed, he/she would have been blocked.

  13. Michelle Baldwin

    Hmmm… I wonder if I have already guessed who Conner is, because he sounds like someone I blocked a while back.
    i purposefully keep people in my stream who push me, and even those who anger me from time to time. However, my limit comes when all they do is attack on a personal level. It’s not worth your time. Too bad he couldn’t figure out how to agree to disagree in a civil manner. So many more options for learning that way.
    Good for you, and thanks for sharing the experience with us.

  14. CuriousTC

    Hi Bill, I very much agree w/ the sentiments that have been expressed. We should strive to be open to having our opinions & views questioned by those who disagree with us. Their differing perspective can help us grow. I find myself becoming concerned when I see or hear education professionals who only want to listen to people who support their view. I don’t believe that is healthy. However, there comes a time when one may need to “block” another person from their PLN if that person is being aggressively confrontational (e.g., name calling or just being rude). So in the “spirit” of intellectual discourse I believe your blocking this individual was a reasonable action. peace.
    PS I too, have questions about the “flipped classroom”. My thoughts & feelings are mixed, but I will save those comments / questions for another blog entry. : )

  15. Leslie_su76

    “Blocking someone on twitter I liken to refusing to listen to those negative teachers in the workroom who constantly rag on students, other teachers, the admin., parents, etc. and for every positive solution you offer, they simply tear it down. ” I agree with MarkW. We should behave the same way in the digital world that we would f2f.

  16. MarkW

    I’ve had similar run-ins with Conner and his ally. As far as I can tell neither of them are actually in the classroom teaching, though I could be wrong. Yet they want to tell actual classroom teachers that what they are doing is wrong for students they don’t even know.
    Conner’s friend even argued that it’s okay for them to diss flip teachers since what he and Conner are saying is ‘true,’ but that it’s not okay for flip teachers to criticize them in return.
    Blocking someone on twitter I liken to refusing to listen to those negative teachers in the workroom who constantly rag on students, other teachers, the admin., parents, etc. and for every positive solution you offer, they simply tear it down. Just like in that scenario, it’s perfectly legitimate to say if all you have to offer is negativity and complaints, then I’m going to tune you out.
    If you see twitter as your PLN, then it’s totally your right to filter who gets in and who doesn’t. You certainly want some contrarian voices, but only if they have same goals as you (i.e. what’s good for students and conducive to a healthy, learning environment), and voices that engage in honest debate and exploration of ideas.
    Thank you for your good, thought-provoking post!

  17. Gravityassist

    Good article on blocking and I think its necessary when a Tweeter’s Twit-blitz becomes a string of acrimonious invectives or something other than the issue being discussed. I’ve blocked out of necessity.
    Plus your blocking article helped open up some other perspectives on flipping which was interesting. I guess as an IT Director am trying to keep an open mind that learning occurs anywhere, whether at school or not as we position tech, curriculum and instructional methods. So when working with teachers who are wishing to pilot it, keeping an open mind at this point. I think certain environmental and academic conditions need to exist in order to be successful. Not for everyone.

  18. Inschoinschool.wordpress.com

    My thinking is much along the same as George’s. I’m not sure that flipping is such a great idea, but I keep reading up on it and seeing what others are doing and looking to be convinced that it’s a good idea. My biggest hesitation is that it irks me as being teacher-centric in a difference space. I’m aware that this view is probably myopic, but flipping doesn’t seem to fit with the PBL/inquiry approach that I’m looking to develop further in my class. Perhaps I’ll be convinced some time.
    Back to your main idea of blocking though, I think there absolutely comes a point where you have to un-friend/un-follow/block people. When your goal is to collaborate in online spaces, there needs to be a constructive approach. Flamers, nay-sayers and haters aren’t building anything and aren’t online for the same purposes as we are. I don’t think there should be any hesitation from blocking them; their places can be filled with more positive contributes very easily.
    Jeremy

  19. Inschoinschool.wordpress.com

    My thinking is much along the same as George’s. I’m not sure that flipping is such a great idea, but I keep reading up on it and seeing what others are doing and looking to be convinced that it’s a good idea. My biggest hesitation is that it irks me as being teacher-centric in a difference space. I’m aware that this view is probably myopic, but flipping doesn’t seem to fit with the PBL/inquiry approach that I’m looking to develop further in my class. Perhaps I’ll be convinced some time.
    Back to your main idea of blocking though, I think there absolutely comes a point where you have to un-friend/un-follow/block people. When your goal is to collaborate in online spaces, there needs to be a constructive approach. Flamers, nay-sayers and haters aren’t building anything and aren’t online for the same purposes as we are. I don’t think there should be any hesitation from blocking them; their places can be filled with more positive contributes very easily.
    Jeremy

  20. Gcouros

    Here is the funny thing about your post…I don’t know if I agree with the idea of “flipping” and what it brings to the classroom or schools. My fear from it is that it is making people take their own personal time to do school stuff and REALLY pushing them to focus a lot on school being the most important thing, as opposed to our lives.
    Here is the other thing…I have never done it so I don’t really go out there and criticize it either. How could I? It would be the same as saying Physics is stupid; I have no idea about Physics but I know there is something good that comes out of it.
    I remember a few years ago i was critical of people putting a “weekly email” on a blog because I had no idea why they would do something like that. But then I did it. And it was awesome. I in fact still do it this day with my “You Should Read” posts.
    So from that experience, I have learned to ask questions and think critically about initiatives in education, but do not criticize until I see it or put it in action. (I also learned the lesson years ago when I said Twitter was useless in the first place.)
    Thanks for the post. Your learning space is your learning space. Do whatever you need to do to get better.
    G

  21. Bill Ferriter

    Kelly wrote:
    Im not sure why it such a big deal when we make those decisions. In
    f2f situations, there are people whom I do not wish to spend time with
    for a number of reasons.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    Well said, Kelly — but the crazy part is that people get drilled in social spaces when they block, unfollow and/or dont follow people back. Theyre called snobs or elitists. Theyre accused of living in an echo chamber.
    Thats the frustrating part of our profession….
    Anyway…thanks for sharing…
    Bill

  22. Kelly Christopherson

    Bill, if it is your learning stream, then you have the ability to prune and grow the stream as needed. I, too, have blocked people and unfollowed others – it’s my learning and if the noise they are making gets in the way of others who I want to hear, then I have the ability to block. I’m not sure why it such a big deal when we make those decisions. In f2f situations, there are people whom I do not wish to spend time with for a number of reasons. I’m not rude but I don’t expend energy to engage them for a variety of reasons. With all the voices that are available, not listening to one who, as it seems in this case, isn’t a positive and isn’t interested in dialogue, shouldn’t be such a bad thing.

  23. Bill Ferriter

    Darcy wrote:
    Thanks for sharing – quite courageous as you have opened yourself up for criticism. Take care
    – – – – – – – – – – –
    You know, Darcy, maybe I have opened myself up to criticism — and maybe Im just a selfish son-of-a-gun — but Im sick of the flawed notion that everyone deserves to stand on equal footing in MY learning stream.
    That attitude is missing the point of new digital tools COMPLETELY. We can all customize our own learning streams now — and that customization is empowering when we choose to use it.
    Whats even more important to remember is that there are THOUSANDS of other voices out there to listen to. Blocking someone who you find harmful to your own learning doesnt mean you arent listening to differing opinions. It just means youre going to have to find another voice to fill that role in your own learning — and given the nature of social spaces, that wont be hard at all.
    Educators are such an egalitarian profession that we put our attention on everyone BESIDES ourselves when working in social spaces. Were worried about what it will look like when we exclude someone instead of about what it will mean for us if we continue to allow their ideas into our network even after theyve proven to be a poor fit for who we are and/or how we learn.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  24. Darcymullin

    Bill, I appreciate your comments on this issue. The last couple of days have been interesting. I have gone from engaged to frustrated to angry and ultimately I just feel resigned. I too worry about the idea of blocking someone. The purpose (for me) of social media is to engage in conversation, but as you note conversation should be two way. Conversations that start with personal attacks go nowhere and make people defensive and have no place in any medium. I don’t want to tweet or blog in an echo chamber, and I invite discourse, but it must be reasoned. Respect and humility should be a part of any conversation either online or face to face. I will continue to reflect on the issue. Thanks for sharing – quite courageous as you have opened yourself up for criticism. Take care.

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