The Block Bot…. Internet Fascism

When I first heard of Atheismplus.com, I was intrigued that such a thing existed. Their mandate seemed pretty straight forward. They weren’t attempting to turn Atheism into an ideology; they just wanted those who are atheists to engage in social justice. Not a bad premise, if you ask me.

Then I started to hear stories from the Twitterverse about them and their followers. Then I witnessed them first hand. More and more it became apparent that this group was trying to turn Atheism into a Dogma, and attempting to apply a doctrine to it. Finally, I was introduced to their entity known as The Block Bot (@The_Block_Bot). Here’s a snippet of its mandate:

“Twitter is polluted by a number of anti-feminist obsessives, who viciously harass those who don’t support their warped views. The Block Bot is a Twitter application to automatically block the nastiest of these people.” (http://www.theblockbot.com)

Okay, sounds alright. No one really likes these sorts of people. But there is something very sinister about the whole thing.

First of all, I understand and support blocking people who viciously harass, regardless of their ideologies. If someone starts trolling me, or attacks me with personal insults, I will block them. This however, is not what block bot sets about to do.

It seeks out Twitter accounts that it deems to be unfit for communication with it’s subscribers, even if these supposed harassers have never made any attempt to contact anyone on the subscriber list, and preemptively block them. This is kind of like me, as an Atheist, blocking the Pope for being a Theist. What motivation do I have to do this? None. I might not like the pope and his church does some pretty nasty shit to people, but I have no reason to block the man. It’s not as if it’s a statement to the world about my feelings for the pope. No one will know I blocked the pope. And to be quite honest, sometimes I like reading the Pope’s twitter because I like to be informed about the ideology of the church.

I have always been a firm believer that surrounding yourself with people whom only believe the same things as you is not conducive to progress. If I were an outspoken Feminist, like many Atheism Plus folks are, I would not seek to block misogynists. I would instead engage with them, in a polite and rational way. I can’t control if they change their views, but it’s a start. Blocking them and ignoring them does nothing to fix anything. In order to end misogny or racism or inequality, you have to change the minds of those perpetuating these things. You can only do this by engaging them with rational and intellectual discourse. If they respond with insulting attacks, block them. But don’t make a preemptive strike. Those who remember the Cold War will know how much tension and fear a preemptive strike can cause.

But that isnt the only problem with The Block Bot. Its supporters seem to be as viciously abusive as those who the Block Bot wishes to moderate. I questioned the block bot for blocking someone that I, in my opinion, was guilty of no wrong doing. I was hoping they would elaborate and end my ignorance. Instead, this is the response I received:

block bot

A policy of Misandry (cf Misogyny). Simply put, man hating. Not very conducive to equality among the sexes.

Then I recieved these rude and insulting responses from one of its supporters (Update: I recently learned that this person mentioned below is not only a supporter but one of the creators of Block Bot and one of 10 people who operate the @The_Block_Bot Twitter account):

stupid guy

poop

This is one of my personal favourites. This person said they weren’t viciously harassing me and then called me a clueless privileged arse:

blah

Was this person blocked for their insulting remarks? Of course not, they’re supporters of Block Bot. It’s okay for them to use insulting and rude remarks.

I was then blocked. I cant produce the entire conversation here since I’ve been blocked. These are the tweets I was able to save before it happened. You can view the entire conservation yourself by going to my twitter feed. Assuming you also haven’t been preemptively blocked. You might even get blocked for reading this blog post.

In addition to this, several supporters of the Block Bot have claimed that those who disagree with the Block Bot are “dudebros” who are upset that their “freeze peach” is being taken away. This was one of the comments on the Block Bot Twitter Timeline:

freezepeach

So, according to these folks, we privileged ‘dudebros’ are claiming that our right to free speech has not been taken away and we don’t have the right to an audience. I agree with both of these. Twitter is a public forum where people are free to engage with other people and espouse their views. Some are guilty of harassing people, so we block them. That makes sense. What the Block Bot is trying to do is make a semi-private place on Twitter where a certain group of people can say whatever they want and anyone who would normally disagree with them are not able to do so because they’ve been blocked. So apparently they not only have the right to an audience but they can say whatever they want without being accountable. If you want a place where you can espouse your views in this way, make your own forum where only people who think like you can signup. But you won’t, because you want everyone to be able to see what you’re saying, just not be able to present counter arguments. What you’ve done is say, “We want to be a part of this public forum so we can say whatever we want but we want a system in place so that no one can disagree with our views.” Free Speech does not involve the right to an audience nor does it involve espousing your views without someone getting on their own soapbox and attempting to refute you. You can’t go into a public park and stand there with a megaphone so everyone in the park can hear you but then build a wall so that no one aside from those you choose can come in and debate you.

I would never attempt to silence someone for having an opposing view. If you read my ‘About’ section, you will clearly see that I endorse people debating my opinions. I am guided by objective thought, logic, inference to best explanation and the force of the better argument. I do not feel threatened by those who have opposing views because I am willing to change mine, if I am presented with an objective, logical argument that is better supported and can be ethically defended. These are the reasons I support Atheism, Gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality and other aspects of social justice. I do not, however, follow the crowd and defend them unconditionally. If an Atheist says something I do not agree with, I don’t just agree with them or support them because I identify as an Atheist as well, I debate with them. Questioning your own ideologies is just as important as questioning those you disagree with. It is the only way to not let things like Atheism become dogmatic and totalitarian.

The Block Bot blocking people who might have opposing views is borderline totalitarian. They are unwilling to hear people who have even slightest resistance to their views. Even those who are supporters of social justice but do not agree with the same specific ideals can and have been blocked. @secularbloke and I were blocked not for opposing Feminism or social justice or atheism, but for opposing the Block Bot itself and their version of Atheism. If this is not totalitarian, what is?

So if you come across Atheism Plus or The Block Bot, be mindful of its militant stance and hypocrisy. It has not yet proven itself to be a welcoming or peaceful place to discuss social justice in light of Atheism, as I hoped it would. It’s more like an exclusive club that rejects anyone who doesn’t hold the same views as them and insults and trolls those who question their practices or dont fall in line as one of the sheep.


16 responses to “The Block Bot…. Internet Fascism

  • Aratina Cage

    Twitter is not a public park. Twitter actually provides the blocking service as an integral part of the Twitterverse. So, the public park analogy does not fit. However, I have seen people make stands in public parks and use speakers to blast their voice out to everyone coming within sight of them, and you can’t very well go up and debate those turkeys, so ensconcing oneself from debaters is not outside the realm of possibilities. Then again, tweeting is not like shouting through a megaphone in a public park. The only way to “hear” a tweet is to search for it or to have one of the people you are following retweet it. Twitter is much more like radio chatter with unlimited channels. What we are doing is keeping certain people out of our channels based on their behavior, including behavior such as yours where you use abusively hyperbolic language toward a complete stranger and fellow atheist.

    • Alan Dempsey

      And just because you he is a fellow atheist, doesnt mean I have to agree with him. Atheism is not a camaraderie, its a stance. That’s the problem with you A+ers. You try to make Atheism into a dogmatic system of thought. Atheism is not a clique you join.

      • Aratina Cage

        Ah, so you’ll go and spout abusive things to me now, too, will you? You think I like being told there is a problem with me? That I am “dogmatic”? That I’m part of a clique? How about you take all that shit back?

      • Alan Dempsey

        If you present me with a logical and rational argument for A+ and The Block Bot, I would be open to changing my views. So far, your responses have been no more cogent or rational that any of your other supporters that I have interacted with.

        Oh, and since you are against people coming to your twitter and debating your views, why exactly are you here debating mine? Isn’t that a little hypocritical?

      • Alan Dempsey

        I didn’t say YOU were dogmatic. I said A+ tries to make Atheism dogmatic. It’s not abusive if I disagree with your views on things. How about you enlighten my ignorance with rational discourse instead of victimizing yourself.

      • Aratina Cage

        You really ought to stop saying stuff like “victimizing yourself”. It’s needless and caustic. And Atheism+ is not dogmatic any more than your local atheist meetup is dogmatic. We have the right to form groups based around anything we want. Either there is dogma in every group, or there isn’t. Which is it? If there is, then it’s got to be more than *just* dogma to be harmful; you would have to prove that it is harmful dogma. If dogma isn’t part of every group, then you’ll have to spell out why Atheism+ has dogma but, say, JREF doesn’t.

  • Alan Dempsey

    The analogy works. If there is a disruptive person in the park disrupting the enjoyment of others, the rangers throw them out. Just like you can block someone for being a douche.

    Hyperbolic? Perhaps. Abusive? Absolutely not. I was harassed by your supporter for disagreeing with and questioning the practices of the Block Bot.

    • Aratina Cage

      I’ve already explained how it actually does not fit very well. You have to shoehorn it in by assuming everyone reads a certain tweet, which simply isn’t true. And the rangers do *not* throw people out. Where in the USA do you live? I’ve never seen the street preachers thrown out no matter how loud or verbally abusive they were. And no, you cannot “block” a street preacher. It’s not possible. You have to walk by them most of the time because they camp out at the park entrances. So, no. Your analogy is not very good to begin with. You need a better one.

      Twitter was actually based on the idea of radio chatter, and I think that fits it much better. On the radio, say CBs, anyone can get on a channel and say anything within FCC limits. They can talk over you. And more than two people can have a conversation. To avoid trolls on the radio, you either ignore them or change the channel, hopefully to one the troll doesn’t know about. Twitter operates much more like that, with the exception that it does provide blocking functionality, and the “channels” are your personal timeline or a hashtag search.

      And calling what Oolon said “vicious” *is* abusive. Calling what he said “harassment” *is* abusive. He was neither harassing nor vicious. He was being funny. You were supposed to laugh, not get all bent out of shape.

  • Alan Dempsey

    Thank you for your anecdotal evidence about street preachers. It is not logically valid. And if my analogy is faulty, it doesnt make my arguement any less valid.

    As far as Oolon is concerned, it is very convenient to claim in retrospect that he was being funny. The english language doesnt have particles to make it clear what the tone of a sentence is, so how am I to know that.
    Either way, it’s still unprofessional for an entity trying to gain credibility to respond with ambiguous humour. Direct answers to my queries would have made for a much better discourse.

    And since you do not have the right to an audience, as you Block Bot defenders are so fond of pointing out, I’m going to exercise my right to longer listen or interact with you.

    I dont need a Bot to do it for me.

  • oolon

    In the analogy the people blocked might be the annoying preachers in the park and I’m the one handing out special ear plugs that block them out. But allow you to still talk to your friends. You can still choose to listen to them if you want, but the default is quiet.

    But the analogy is very strained as Aratina pointed out. Truth is on Twitter all it does is stop your tweets getting into my “connect”. They’ll still appear in the feed when people retweet or in hash searches. Any user seeing something interesting can have a look at your TL, see you are blocked and follow so they can see what you have to say. It never blocks people you follow.

    “fascism” … Seriously funny that nearly all the critics discredit themselves automatically. Sort of sad as well as I’d like to see a coherent argument against shared blocklists. But I doubt there is one as the basic model of trusting other peoples judgement when it comes to your choice to sign up to a service is endemic in all walks of life.

    A+ is an idea, the forum with 2.7K members, reddit with 3.7K are different entities as is the block bot. I’ve maybe been to reddit once, for example … Then there are people who go to neither and don’t use the bot but agree with the premise of A+. Painting all of “A+” as X,Y or Z is ridiculous and also makes its critics look a little silly. Have a look at what A+ *is* http://atheismplus.com/faq.php … I doubt many of the critics have even read that.

  • oolon

    BTW saw your comments over at sinmantyx/mamelby … You and a couple of others were blocked by the block bot for functional reasons. It uses the TL to get the tweets that are parsed and added to the blocklist. A lot of whiny spam and that gets broken. So sometimes ppl are blocked. Happy to unblock you know it’s died down.

    Probably not worth it though as I engaged far too much through that account. Its meant to only tweet the people blocked and a few advertising tweets of people saying how great it is … I know, I’m a fascist ;-)

    In fact unlike all you and your friends points about the problems with the bot I got some very rare complaints from users. You know why? Because I retweeted your inane comments about “fascism”, “not thinking for yourself” etc etc … The users pointed out they are trying to get away from that rubbish and me retweeting it was unpleasant. So I stopped.

    Get why secularbloke was added to the list? Why you should be on the list at “annoying”, don’t know if anyone added you… Empathise with the users who have heard all this “freeze peach” stuff a million times before and its just *boring*. Some are successful bloggers with large audiences where they tackle the *ideas* you think they are hiding from.

    Then people like MAMelby exist, who just love to argue! It’s nice to paint all your ideological opponents as X, but it is never true. (BTW many A+ critics are not in the list and never would be, ie @million_gods)

  • Oliver

    I would point out that most of the people blocked are anti racists and anti sexists. It’s just we disagree with certain dogmatic articles of faith like the patriarchy, objectification, rape culture and the ironically racist idea that white men are the root cause of all problems and bigotry in the world.

    The whole narrative that the those of us who oppose Atheism Plus are misogynistic harassers is an egregious misrepresentation of the truth.

    I support equal rights and opportunities for all and oppose bigotry, violence and hatred but for the online social justice movement that is not enough.

    One MUST agree with politically correct language policing and never ever challenge a woman or person of colour views no matter how wrong you believe them to be.

    To do that is wrong, it’s harassment and will get you blocked but calling people racist, misogynistic dickwads is just a okay.

  • metaburbia

    ‘Happy to unblock you know (sic) it’s died down.’

    What James Billingham doesn’t mention here is that when you were added to the BlockBot’s list, every subscriber to the level you were at would have had a block created on their Twitter account for you. Once you’re removed from the BlockBot list…those blocks aren’t removed. This is an unfortunately necessary consequence of the way Billingham’s BlockBot works.

    I was chatting on Twitter yesterday to someone who was added ‘by mistake’. One of the admins, after removing her from the list, claimed she wouldn’t have experienced any negative consequences. They couldn’t possibly make that assurance in good faith. But that’s what you get from a BlockBot admin.

    Billingham & other boosters of the A+ BlockBot tout it as a tool to prevent harassment and suchlike – which it could be. In practice though it’s used as a tool to cocoon A+ supporters, That’s a perfectly valid thing to want to do…unless you dissemble & mislead when promoting it outside the echo-chamber of A+, and leave blocks on accounts, and report accounts for spam – which James has done and/or does.

    • MaxDecimus13

      The idea of a block-bot and blocking in general is a good one. After all if you are being harassed and consistently trolled then it is good to have a tool where you can stop them.

      However, it is not being used in this way. Instead it is being used to block people with a difference of opinion. Many people including myself and the example above have been blocked by people just for disagreeing with them and not doing so in the slightest bit aggressively. I’m sorry this is not skepticism and I don’t recall mass bannings of creationists and religious people for their differing opinions.

      Certain parts of the community seem to think that their opinion on certain issues are the correct one and the only possible one you could hold. I challenge anybody to try and attempt to disagree with a prominent A+ proponent on the issue of privilege and not get banned. Oddly having a different opinion is classed by these people as trolling.

      The Block-Bot is all well and good but who decides who or what is a troll? Where is the accountability or the opportunity for defence? Inevitably we see people from one side of the debate banning and adding people from the other because they don’t like them usually because of the opinions they hold.

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