A Few Quick Notes About Blocking, Muting, Unfriending, and Banning

I’ve said things like this many times in different venues, but I’ve never put it together here in a single place I can link to — so I’m doing that now.

Ahem.

If you don’t respect my basic right to moderate my own online spaces — don’t bother to comment in any of them.

If you think I’m obligated to listen to anyone say whatever they want, for as long as they want to talk to me — don’t bother to comment.

If you think free speech means people have the right to force me to listen to whatever they want to say, whenever they want, for as long as they want, in whatever space they want, in as ugly a manner as they want, and that I’m obligated to listen, forever — don’t bother to comment.

If you think blocking, muting, unfriending, or banning people in my online spaces means I hate free speech, am not interested in constructive dialog, and am only interested in listening to an echo chamber — don’t bother to comment.

I love arguing. I’ve been arguing online for years, and I’ve been following other people’s online arguments for years. And I know when arguments are going nowhere — and I know the arguments that signal, “I’m not actually listening to you or thinking about what you’re saying.” My time on Earth is limited, and you do not have a right to that time. I will decide for myself who I do and don’t want to engage with. I will decide for myself which conversations are worth my time, and which ones are not.

And this trope of “You are a terrible person if you block or ban or mute people” is one of the most common forms of Internet harassment — especially for women. It’s extra insidious because, to people who aren’t clued in to the reality of being a feminist woman on the Internet, it can sound very reasonable. The mere fact of having boundaries, the mere fact of making decisions about who we are and aren’t willing to engage with, gets us framed as close-minded, non-skeptical, censorious, fascist bitches. When it’s aimed at women, this “How dare you block or ban or mute!” trope basically means, “You have no right to have boundaries. It is your job to listen, patiently and politely, for as long as people want to talk. Men have the floor, and women are the audience. You are a woman, and that means you’re a public commodity, and you have to give access to yourself to anyone who wants it. Quit whining, and engage with every asshole who wants to engage with you.”

Don’t do that. If you want to engage with me, understand that I have the right to leave that engagement at any time. If you want to engage with me in my space, understand that I am not obligated to give that space to you. You have that right, too. You can opt out of conversations with me at any time. You can stop following me on Twitter or Facebook; you can stop reading my blog; you can block me or mute me or unfriend me or unfollow me. And of course, you have the right to say what you want in your own spaces. But if you can’t accept that I have a right to walk away from conversations, don’t start a conversation with me. Thanks.

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Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

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A Few Quick Notes About Blocking, Muting, Unfriending, and Banning
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16 thoughts on “A Few Quick Notes About Blocking, Muting, Unfriending, and Banning

  1. 1

    What people don’t seem to understand is that ‘free speech’ is exactly that. We are all free to speak exactly as we choose. That doesn’t mean anyone else has to listen, or pay attention, or give us room on their blogs or whatever. If you were trying to stop people expressing certain opinions at all, yes, you’d be being censorious and awful. But you’re not. The same way that if I said ‘no one is allowed to watch football anywhere ever’, that would be oppressive. But if I say ‘no one can just turn up at my house and demand to watch football’, that seems reasonable.

  2. 2

    Greta,
    Thanks for saying this and putting it all in one handy place!

    Also, too:
    *If* I *choose* to listen to your free speech, I have a perfect right to criticize whatever you say using that free speech of yours–even unto mocking and snarking. Even if you don’t like it. Even if it hurts your fee-fees. Especially if you say it in MY space! Because, you see, *I* also have free speech–and I know how to use it!
    (IOW, the only good freeze peach is the one I put in my morning smoothie!)

  3. 3

    Estimated number of blogs on the internet: 152 million.
    Number of blogs one needs to be banned from or even just criticized on in order to complain about “free speech” or “censorship”: 1

  4. 4

    Hi Greta,

    I sent you a Facebook PM on April 27 asking for Friend access so I can comment there. Was that the right way to do it? It’s probably sitting in your Others folder. I miss being able to engage with you and your community there.
    Peace,
    Amy.

  5. 6

    I sent you a Facebook PM on April 27 asking for Friend access so I can comment there. Was that the right way to do it? It’s probably sitting in your Others folder. I miss being able to engage with you and your community there.

    december27 @ #4: The way to do it is to send me a message on Facebook, saying you want to be friends so you can comment on my stuff. I’ll friend you then, or respond to your friend request. Thanks for asking!

  6. 7

    It amazes me how often blog writers and podcasters have the need to explain this point to their commentariat.

    Most adults live in places where they have the freedom to drink alcohol too, but that doesn’t mean we can drink anytime, anywhere, and get as drunk as we possibly can — and it certainly doesn’t give anyone the right to come into my bar whenever they like and drink, nor does their freedom to drink limit my right to bounce their obnoxious drunk ass out on the street whenever I think they deserve it.

    These same rules apply for freedom of speech.

  7. 8

    Amen. These rules apply no matter what sorts of disagreements one has had with the blocking/banning/unfriending person.

    Also, sometimes blocking/banning/deleting is a way of seeking to end a painful fight, protect oneself from hurt, or avoid rekindling bad feelings or hurt when commenting on the walls of mutual friends.

  8. 9

    This article is soothing to me, since I’m a veteran of some YouTube wars and need to take a nap. I hardly need to tell you about a certain group of atheist turdlets who loathe women, black people of any gender, trans, gay, lesbian … I could go on. I was stunned to find it the first time, and continued to be stunned as I saw more and more of it. To learn that you’ll never suffer such nonsense hear is a relief.

    Just want to say that I really am a First Amendment absolutist, having worked in two careers which were entirely dependent on the First. People simply don’t get it that the First only allows you to publish (speak, write, draw, etc.) what you want to do. It’s not the right – nor was it ever meant to be the right – to force other people to publish your shit. Besides, it began as a full-bore Amendment to prevent the government from censoring citizen speech and the press.

    You’re not their publisher. In this case: your beach, your waves.

  9. 11

    wait, wait. isn’t every conversation a caged deathmatch? i was under the distinct impression that by speaking at all you are agreeing to be bound by those rules.

    yep, i’m sure of it.

  10. 14

    Okay—this is perhaps the most suitable blog post to offer some of my thoughts on the subject. I know that you’ve taken issue with some of the comments I have attempted to post so far, and I’m also wondering how much the dismissal of my comments have had to do with them being extremely off-topic (Obviously, I hope that the statements within them that I made have been acceptable in and of themselves, and would not have been rejected if they were posted in a more appropriate context).

    Specifically, I wanted to put down some of my opinions down for this particular sentence you wrote:

    If you think blocking, muting, unfriending, or banning people in my online spaces means I hate free speech, am not interested in constructive dialog, and am only interested in listening to an echo chamber — don’t bother to comment.

    While I will admit that I personally haven’t been too happy about the level of moderation on your blog, I must acknowledge that, acting in your capacity as a private citizen, you can do whatever you like with it. As someone who (perhaps against his better judgment) scrolls through many comment sections on various news or social media sites, I notice that the utterly misguided “free speech” argument comes up incessantly. If only more members of the alternative right and the broader demographic of those who generally sympathize with them read up on the subject of where the First Amendment applies.

    The second aspect of my comment stems from your mention of those who accuse you of hating “constructive dialogue.” While I think that judgment on a case-by-case basis is the most reasonable course of evaluating an individual’s reception to disagreements, I do find this argument to be pretty silly. The mere action of banning (as the complaint seems to imply) in no way suppresses healthy debate, particularly if the banned individual uses his platform to harass others (thus making it harder for the free exchange of ideas).

    But to refer back to the first paragraph of this comment, I wondered about the degree to which the deeply off-topic nature of my “introductory” comment played in its rejection. In other words, to pose a question right here: If I disagreed about the extent of the adjusted wage gap in an hypothetical article you wrote about the wage gap, would this pass as an appropriate comment, in your eyes? I’d like to get a rough idea of which divergent ideas you think you can give a platform to and thus debate about in one form or another, and which ideas that you believe are too objectionable to host.

    I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I really do want to discuss the issues of today with other people. There are few places where I think that would result in a greater degree of enlightenment for everybody involved than in a politically progressive, secular humanist blog.

  11. 15

    Learning Process @ #14: If you really want to participate in conversation here, please let it go about a couple of comments I moderated weeks ago. Persistently trying to post the same ideas, and persistently trying to have a meta-argument about which ideas I do and don’t moderate, is not going to make you very welcome here.

  12. 16

    Greta Christina @ #14:

    Sorry about that. I was a bit afraid that my comments weren’t being read thoroughly, but I apologize if it came across as attempting to revive the same topic over and over again. Yeah, I’ll try to let that go—I notice that I’ve hardly written anything about the actual relevant topics themselves. Again, I’ll try to present any dissenting viewpoints I may have as politely and appropriately as I can.

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