I get in so much trouble for this idea. I have people who unfollow me because they tell me I’m being harmful by pointing out that soft-blocking can be ableist.
I have people arguing with me because it’s ‘just what people do’ and no more harmful than ghosting someone in real life.
Spoiler, ghosting someone in real life (unless, obviously and I shouldn’t even have to say it they’re an ACTUAL danger to you) is ALSO HARMFUL, and hurtful too.
Soft blocking can be ableist. I feel it’s actually INHERENTLY ableist simply because it fits the definition of an action which not everyone is going to be *able* to understand.
If everyone isn’t *able* then the action that causes harm is inherently ableist.
It really, really is. Whether we like it or want to admit it or not. Whether it’s your favorite choice of ‘protecting yourself’ or not.
It’s harmful, it’s ableist.
Some definitions and terminologies. I’m writing about this phenomenon on Twitter, since that’s the place I’ve seen it most.
A follow, on Twitter is where you click ‘follow’ and you’re able to see that person’s tweets.
An unfollow means you click unfollow so you don’t have to look at the tweets anymore.
A ‘mutual’ is a mutual follower, someone who you follow and they follow you back.
A block is where you click ‘block’ and the person you have blocked can no longer see your tweets.
First… Soft blocking is the ACTION of hitting the block button on Twitter with a mutual or someone who has followed you because you don’t want them following you/seeing their tweets.
OR you want them to unfollow you without it being a stink about it. (I’ve been told it’s possible on other social media outlets like Tumblr, but I don’t use those so don’t know how it’s done there.)
There are as many reasons in the world to soft-block someone as there are people. SOME few people have reasons that deal with self-protection.
People should ALWAYS protect their mental, physical and emotional health. That is an absolute iron-clad rule. If y’all twist my words as meaning anything other than the ACTUAL words I’m putting on the page, that’s on you.
Oh, and that’s harmful.
Sometimes the methods you use to protect yourself harm others. There is really no way of getting around that. It is a fact when it comes to dealing with intersectionally marginalized people.
Second. I think I need to discuss what ableism is.
The simple definition is that it’s discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.
It gets a lot fuzzier when you’re dealing with intersectionally marginalized people, including those of us who are disabled.
So many of us are disabled in one form or another. Many of us have PTSD from so many things. (I certainly do, I’m diagnosed with C-PTSD and it fucks my life up A LOT.)
The deeper definition of ableism is this, I’ve pasted the definition below.
Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against people who have disabilities. Ableism can take the form of ideas and assumptions, stereotypes, attitudes and practices, physical barriers in the environment, or larger scale oppression. It is oftentimes unintentional and most people are completely unaware of the impact of their words or actions.
Shall we dive even deeper?
We could. We could add on the ideas of privilege to that. Who has more power? Then even deeper, who has more PERCEIVED power.
Have we gone down the rabbit hole yet?
Here. We’d better take some carrots for a snack.
Let me state this unequivocally. Soft-block to your heart’s content. It’s your space, do whatever you want with it. You SHOULD curate your space as you want/need to.
We all should.
Which includes me. When someone I KNOW knows that I have a problem with soft-blocking, AND they do it any way I’m well within my rights to block and not do business with that person.
For me, that means I won’t read or review their books. I won’t buy them.
Now, the reason I HAVE to do that is self-care. If they KNOW I have a problem (because it harms me) with that action, then they do it anyway, I CANNOT trust them.
So I’m sure as hell not doing business with them.
I block and blacklist. People don’t like that, but guess what? It’s my space. I make the rules. If that gets me a rep of being a bitch? I can live with that.
I HAVE to live with that because I’m a very, very broken person with regards to mental health.
You don’t like my rules of treating people decently and trying your best not to harm others in your words and actions?
Of apologizing and owning your shit when you fuck up?
Of respecting boundaries?
I’m not someone you want to work with.
So. Soft-blocking is curating your space as you need to.
I’m not telling you not to do it.
I *am* saying it’s inherently ableist to do it, if you’re neurotypical or abled.
An argument could be made that it’s ableist of me to share how badly it fucks with my head.
To be soft-blocked, I mean.
The argument for *me* being ableist by sharing how badly it messes my head up is that guilt comes into play. By sharing how badly it upsets me, I could technically be putting pressure on people not to soft-block.
I really don’t care if you use a harmful tool to protect yourself. You do you. Your guilt is the price you have to pay for that. I guess that’s too honest for most people though.
*Your* guilt is not *my* problem. It’s not *on me* (the one being harmed) by your action to absolve you of your guilt.
Hence it’s a long stretch to call me sharing my feelings and educated opinion on the realities of soft-blocking and the damage it can and has done ableist.
But it *could* be. A skilled debater or manipulator can make someone absolutely certain the sky is green with purple polka-dots.
The only thing that makes it *not* ableist for me to do that is that it’s also a self-defense mechanism. It’s selfish, but it’s not ableist in that scenario.
Life is not, much as many people would love to think it is, a black and white construct of right vs wrong.
For *me* soft-blocking is wrong. It causes far more harm than it could *ever* ease.
For others, it’s a no big deal, it’s an ‘I just don’t want to confront this person enough to tell them I don’t want to follow them anymore.’
For others, soft-blocking is a self-protective mechanism IN ITSELF. They feel safer soft-blocking than they do just unfollowing.
(I don’t pretend to understand that, the safest way to not see people’s tweets and to signal you want nothing to do with them is to either unfollow or block them. Period.)
But I *am* autistic and I *do* favor bluntness over all your allistic mind games. Y’all can play those. I don’t and won’t.
Now. The reason I’m talking about soft-blocking and sharing my reactions is because *to me* (and probably people like me) it causes PTSD trigger episodes.
I’ve been gaslit so freaking much in my life that any little hint of anything that can make me doubt my memories, my experience, my thoughts… it’ll send me into a downward spiral where I’m left touching real-life objects to assure myself that they’re real. Holding my kids and doing all sorts of things slowly, just so that I can know it/they are real. That I’m actually in the space/time that I’m in.
THAT is what soft-blocking does to people like me. And the number of responses I get to this subject anytime I talk about it, saying something along the lines of ‘that happens to me too!’ mean I’m by far and away not the only one this practice is affecting badly.
If someone is soft-blocking as an act of ‘fuck you for saying it’s ableist’ (I’ve had this happen a lot) it’s kinda obvious what the motivation is, you know?
It happens most from people who are on the younger side, FWIW. I guess I can’t hold it against them. Their brains aren’t done growing yet. (Seriously, medical fact, your brain isn’t mature as far as action/repercussions/risk assessment until you’re around 25, go ahead and look it up if you want. It’s why your car insurance is higher than mine.)
So what about what I said earlier? What about privilege? How does that play in?
I look white (I’m not, but I sure do look it) so I automatically have more privilege than anyone who is visibly not-white.
But when both people look white, that privilege is removed.
I’m unemployed, (I work for myself, and make very little money) so anyone who is employed or gets a regular disability payment is automatically more privileged than I am.
If you’re healthy, have a good income, if you own your home vs rent, there are SO many socioeconomic and anthropological factors that can go into your actual level of privilege that it pays, I think, to be cautious in how you act/react and what actions you use to protect yourself.
In the age of ‘me too’ and allegations of sexual assault being everywhere, soft-blocking is a viable self-protection tool for many. But like any tool, it can be misused and that particular tool has really sharp edges that can hurt both the wielder and the one it’s wielded against.
(I’m a sexual assault survivor, so I can almost see why it would work for people. I don’t quite, though.)
But the gaslighting I’ve been through has scarred me deeper than the sexual assault. I react and have stronger PTSD triggers to anything resembling gaslighting than I do to talk/reading about sexual assault.
This is not the case for everyone. If my words or actions have hurt anyone in those shoes, I do apologize. I’m trying to educate on the results of a harmful behavior that has and does cause damage to people. Including me.
I still don’t agree with people insisting that soft-blocking is harmless. Because it just isn’t.
An anecdote from my own life. If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may recognize it.
Last October (I think?) I was repeatedly soft-blocked by someone I had more privilege than.
I did NOT understand I was being soft-blocked. I didn’t even know it was possible. I wasn’t able to understand why someone would do something that (seems silly to me) when blocking is much more effective.
Let me explain something, Twitter is a really weird place for me. It has followed people for me in the past, and unfollowed people who have sworn they didn’t soft-block me. I’ve had people tell me it’s blocked people for them, people they NEVER would have blocked.
It goes pear-shaped ALL THE TIME. So how is someone supposed to know if they are being soft-blocked?
The problem that happened occurred because this person DID NOT want me to follow them, but they didn’t block me. We had mutuals in common so I would often see their name and I really liked what they had to say. I admired their bravery.
In my naivety, I wanted (because I do have more followers) to boost their voice and opinion.
So I’d see a tweet that I liked a lot, I’d boost it, then realize that (I thought, because I didn’t at the time understand soft-blocking) my follow had dropped because of Twitter weirdness.
I clicked refollow at least three times before I dim-wittedly clued in (that whole, I was NOT able to tell I was being soft-blocked) that it was intentional.
I’ve owned up and apologized for my perceived mistakes there, and for my actual ones. But do you see that if that person had said to ANY of our mutuals to drop a word in my ear that “Hey, you’re making X uncomfy with the refollows” I would have stopped and NOT caused the problems it did? If they’d just blocked me, all the pain could’ve been avoided. Including my pain at not understanding what was happening, and my pain at having caused harm because I didn’t get it.
Instead, the person chose to use soft-blocking instead of communication or blocking.
How did that ACTUALLY help?
It didn’t. It harmed. It harmed me, and I inadvertently harmed THEM because I did NOT understand I was being soft-blocked. I was, at that point in time UNABLE to understand it. Making it an ableist act.
For what it’s worth, I *now* understand it when it happens. I absolutely do NOT like it because it messes with my perception of reality, but I DO understand what is probably happening.
How many people out there don’t though? Who are you hurting when you use this methodology? Is it worth it? (In some cases it absolutely will be, but you need to ask yourself that question.)
I’m not the only one this affects. There are so many people that don’t even know you CAN soft-block. Much less that people use it so flagrantly and without regard to the harm they are most definitely doing with it.
So what about power? Someone with more followers than me has more power. Someone with more money, a better job, better connections, they all have more power than me.
Someone who can work is also in a position of more power, or someone who gets a regular income in any form. They all have more power than me. So we need to be aware of our level of ACTUAL power as well when it comes to our actions.
But all of these things (and probably more that I can’t think of) play a part in the interconnected strands of how people interact with one another on Twitter and other social media outlets.
ALL of these things are things that make soft-blocking ableist if you have MORE power, and selfish, perhaps, if you have the same amount or less.
So what. So it’s selfish. Big whoop. There aren’t any Twitter police. Obviously, or we wouldn’t have any Nazis.
So you feel guilty about using a double-edged sword to protect yourself, one that can and does hurt people.
Big whoop. Again, your price to pay. If the cost is worth it to you, fine. Do it.
If it isn’t, then don’t, just unfollow instead.
If it’s ME you’re dealing with? I guarantee you that I will react better to a straight up unfollow or block than I will to you soft-blocking me and making me doubt the cohesion of my mind.
Because to me, and many people LIKE me. That’s exactly what that does.
It’s a minor form of gaslighting.
As I’ve said on Twitter in the past 24 hours or so, intent does not excuse the harm you cause.
It’s my intent to educate about the damage of soft-blocking. I’ve been told I’m hurting people by pointing this out.
I can’t pretend to really understand how it DOES. But I trust that people are telling me the truth that it hurts.
I’m sorry for that.
Truth often does hurt? It’s the precursor to growth and awareness.
Me pointing out that soft-blocking harms others is no different than whoever first noticed and pointed out that we needed ramps for disabled people to access public buildings.
I’ve been wondering the past day if those people, the ones who fought for that kind of accessiblity, have gotten as much flack and push back and accusations as I have about this issue.
Probably. But progress is never made by being silent.
I could go on with this and try to unpack how it’s less ableist for another disabled person to soft-block another disabled person, because if it’s done out of self-protection, at least there’s a justifiable reason for the harm they’re inflicting.
But again, intent and reasoning doesn’t change the harm they’ve done. Intent never excuses harm.
For any of my mutuals? Straight up unfollow me.
I unfollow for unfollow. You unfollow me, I unfollow you, always. Period. And that’s really the end of it.
I don’t follow many ‘real people’ on Twitter, at the time I’m writing this I have 515 accounts that I follow. More than half of those are images/news/weather etc accounts.
They aren’t people I talk to. I follow 4 people who don’t follow me back (they’re all authors, FWIW, some of my favorites.)
Everyone does Twitter in the way that best works for them.
If people don’t like the way *I* do things. They are well within their rights to not have anything to do with me.
Just like *I’m* well within my rights to do what *I* need to do to protect myself.
Which includes blocking people I’ve figured out have soft-blocked me.
Like it or not, the action harms me (and a lot of other people) by making us question our minds/memories/thoughts/etc.
That’s why it’s ableist and should be used with care, if at all.