Last week, I made a tweet that was a bad risk calculation. Glenn Greenwald, the formerly antiauthoritarian journalist turned Trump apologist who will throw a 5,000-word tantrum disputing the technical accuracy of every word in this subordinate clause, was on Twitter promoting Tucker Carlson’s show, because Glenn Greenwald and Tucker Carlson have formed a mutually beneficial publicity feedback loop with each other, in which their respective chosen identities as a “libertarian leftist” and a “conservative populist” allow them to unanimously attack the people they both hate while also congratulating themselves on their ideological open-mindedness.
Tucker Carlson is, of course, a white nationalist, who uses his show to denounce the supposedly corrosive effects of immigration and diversity, up to and including doing a segment on “GYPSIES: COMING TO AMERICA.” Glenn Greenwald’s credentials—as an anti-imperialist investigative journalist and as the kind of person who features his foreign-born and nonwhite family members in his Twitter avatar—might seem to be at odds with being a repeat guest and supporter of a program that borrows talking points from the Nazi Party, but all Greenwald cares about is owning the libs and being on TV, not necessarily in that order.
So, accurately but injudiciously, I used Twitter to tell Greenwald he was a starfucker who should stop doing publicity for a white nationalist TV show. Greenwald—who it turned out was booked for Carlson’s show again that very night—stewed over it for a while and then responded with a flurry of tweets he obviously considered a devastating personal attack, broadcast to his million-plus followers. In true trash-Twitter mob-starter mode, he went to the trouble of searching for and including a photo of me.
Anyway! Twitter fights are boring to talk about even to the people involved. The point is that Greenwald’s bad tweets inspired his followers—who include, strangely enough, hordes of standard-issue online fascism enthusiasts—to start retweeting him and showing up in my mentions, where I didn’t want to see them. And then today, a week later, Greenwald got retweeted by [NOT WORTH THE HEADACHE OF MENTIONING NAME], an actual leader of the [NOT WORTH THE HEADACHE OF MENTIONING NAME] mobbing movement and an active promoter of the [NOT WORTH THE HEADACHE OF MENTIONING NAME] conspiracy theory, and a whole new Black Gate opened up, spilling forth a whole new mass of orcs.
Watching the markers of worthlessness scroll by—Roman-history pseudonym? Check. Reference to “NPCs”? Check. MAGA hashtags? Checkity check check—was like reading a roll call of people to block. And yet: Twitter has no mechanism for easily blocking orcs once they’ve been summoned.
Twitter tells its users to employ its built-in tools to manage and improve their online experience, but those tools are all designed around the absurdly false notion that all problems on Twitter are individual problems. You pick one shitty tweet out of the torrent of shitty tweets, click on it to enlarge it, click on the user’s name to get a drop-down menu, select whether you want to block or mute that user, and then confirm the action. Then you do it again, until you get bored. (If you want to report an actual active racist, there are even more steps.) Each time you click through the routine, thanks to Twitter’s are-you-sure-you-want-to-do-this protocol and a lag built into the interface, you end up having to spend extra time staring at whatever tweet was so bad you wanted to do something to get rid of it in the first place.
Mob problems call for mob fixes. It’s possible to mute all notifications for a particular bad tweet, but that’s no substitute for getting rid of the whole swarm of cretins who like that tweet, forever. What if, instead of muting the activity on a particular tweet, Twitter built a button to mute or block the users who are being active? When you’ve seen one Glenn Greenwald–Tucker Carlson fan, you’ve seen them all, and also you’ve seen one too many. Let their expressive gesture of fandom take them right out of your mentions, in perpetuity.
Presented with this suggestion, some people have objected that is too blunt an instrument, so that it would also block people who were retweeting Greenwald to criticize him. It’s true. Maybe that would force everyone to stop using the quote-retweet feature, and I would never have gotten myself into this dumb situation in the first place.
At the very least, Twitter could build a float-over blocking option, which you could activate with a single click. That is, after all, all that the irritating people did in the first place, to bring their unwanted selves into your mentions: they clicked the “like” button. Why not make it as easy to get rid of annoying people as it is for them to annoy you?