To Block or Not to Twitter Block: That's the Question

Published on: December 18, 2012 | Written by: Clay Travis

To block or not to block is the question that every sports media person on Twitter has to decide.

I've been on Twitter for over three years now and in that time I've blocked about 150 people. Considering around 63,000 of you follow me, that's a tiny block percentage.

I'm sure quite a few people have blocked me too.

But so far I only know of three: former NCAA tourney basketball man Greg Shaheen, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, and Titan kicker Rob Bironas. This is truly a motley crew of blockers.

The most amazing thing about all three of these blockers is that I never even Tweeted to them or tried to follow them myself. So they actually had to make a significant effort to block me. That is, they had to seek me out on Twitter, read something I tweeted, and then click block even though I wasn't Tweeting or following them.

That's an angry block.

So why'd they block me?

The NCAA's Shaheen blocked me because I adequately and regularly pointed out that the organization that employed him was full of crap. The irony of one of the NCAA's top employees not being able to handle the truth is truly amazing. And par for the NCAA course. But since I didn't follow Shaheen and never tweeted him, I had no idea Shaheen had blocked me until I tried to retweet a piece he wrote on the NCAA selection committee.

Yep, the NCAA actually blocked me on twitter.

Although I'm not sure for certain when he blocked me, I believe McCarron blocked me for saying that his mom is really hot.  I only know he blocked me because I tried to retweet his announcement that he was returning for his senior year and Twitter wouldn't allow me to do so. 

Finally, Titans kicker Rob Bironas blocked me in a fit of anger over me Tweeting that he ran on the field late at Monday Night Football. He's since unblocked me. 

My own thought process this morning has me wondering -- what's an appropriate Twitter block policy?

Get any group of sports media together and eventually the conversation turns to Twitter. And from there the conversation turns to blocking, everyone is curious how everyone else deals with complete idiots in social media. The answer, it would appear, is as varied as the sports media on Twitter.

To block or not to block, that's the question? And if you're blocking, what's your standard?

So I decided to ask several sports media people that I follow on Twitter what their block standard is. I tried to get a wide vareity of active sports media Twitter users from ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated and SBNation. 

And I think the answers are pretty intriguing. 

Here we go:  

Spencer Hall at EDSBS.com says his Twitter block standard is simple, "I have to think the word, 'cunt,' out loud."

This is the best Twitter block standard I've ever heard.

Gary Parrish of CBS Sports said his standard is, "I don't worry with all idiots. But my policy is to block if you're consistently dumb and irritating enough for me to recognize you."

Meanwhile, CBS's Bruce Feldman, who has over 100,000 followers, said: "I never did until three weeks ago. I just started approaching it as 'life's too short' to see people being obnoxious and disrespectful on my timeline. Many of my other friends in media told me they did it all the time and I never did. I had a few instances where someone was obnoxious and I'd answered them and ended up having a decent discourse but had a few instances of people just being way out of line and I don't need to see it."

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated said he blocks followers, but,  "Only if they are persistently personal and nasty."

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated said, "I don't do it often, but if someone is overly mean and uses excessive profanity, or is harassing me, absolutely I block them. Why put up with that if you don't have to?"

ESPN's Darren Rovell, who joined Twitter in March of 2009 and has over 285,000 followers, said, "For a very long time I didn't block anyone because I figured I could take what people throw at me." But that changed recently. "The people I block now have an agenda, not just a difference of opinion. When it gets nasty then it's not worth the time it takes to look at it."

In three years on Twitter Rovell says he's blocked just 25 people.

What about women in sports media? It's my hypothesis that they actually face more Twitter abuse than anyone.

ESPN's Jemele HIll, who has a large 100,000+ following on Twitter and interacts with her followers frequently, said: "I have only blocked one person and it was because this guy was such an asshole, I just had to. I don't like to do that because I feel like if I do, they win. It's a silly pride thing."

CBS sports sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson says her Twitter block standard is, "I usually block anytime I get a nasty or perverted comment."

ESPN's public relations spokesperson Keri Potts has a similar standard: "Easy, anyone who makes me feel threatened as a woman whether it's violent language or creepy behavior. Just blocked a guy today." 

Fox Sports Erin Andrews, who has one of the largest sports media audiences in the country at 1.6 million followers, said recently on our 3HL radio show, "I block people like crazy for all sorts of things." In so doing, Andrews is applying the Supreme Court's obscenity standard, "I know it when I see it."

Which is a fair standard given her massive audience.

Meanwhile, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, who has nearly 400,000 Twitter followers, steadfastly refuses to block anyone at all. "Not one person," he said, "It would be easier to do that, but I don't."

Yahoo's Dan Wetzel, who has over 100,000 Twitter followers, echoes that decision. "I block nobody," Wetzel said.

What about Paul Finebaum, how does he deal with his 100,000+ followers? "Nope, don't block anyone," he says.

Refusing to block anyone at all is a real Twitter rarity, one embraced by Van Pelt, Wetzel, Finebaum and, nearly, Hill. 

I had this opinion for a while, that I would refuse to block anyone and allow everyone's opinion to flourish, but then after about a year I became convinced that several people Tweeting at me had legitimate psychological issues. By "legitimate psychological issues" I mean, they were certifiably insane. Blocking people actually seems safer then. Once they're blocked they can't continue to obsess about what I'm Tweeting because they can no longer see it. 

I said earlier in this piece I've blocked 150 people. My guess is that just about all of these people are either being treated for mental illness or have an undiagnosed mental illness. 

Really. 

Lots of times when I block the people that I block will gloat over who else has blocked them on Twitter. Which is a bit like taking to the street and bragging, "I am so awful on Twitter that I got kicked out of a bar with free drinks. Yay, me!"

Think about how hard this is to do.  

So what's my personal standard that gets you blocked.

It's a four prong test:

1. You threaten me or my family.

This happens way too often.

As a general rule, I don't care what you say about me the first few times so long as you aren't threatening to kill me, but negative comments or threats about my family? You're gone the first time.

This is probably forty or so of the people I've blocked.

2. You obsessively call me gay.

Generally, with improper grammar.

I don't mind being called gay -- after all I'm a gay muslim on Twitter -- but I do like to read the mentions that you guys send to me. If you constantly send me gay comments then you just make it impossible for me to actually read the people who are sending me interesting things. 

The number of people on Twitter who will call you gay a hundred times will completely astound you.

So you're gone after about ten gay comments.

This is probably sixty or so people.  

3. You tweet negativity constantly and none of it is funny, interesting or smart.

Look, I'm reading all my at mentions. I want to know what you guys think because you make me better at what I do for a living. I've said it before, but Twitter is my AP feed. If something happens that I need to know about, one of you will Tweet me about it. 

I love 99% of you guys.

But if you have ten followers and you've sent ten thousand tweets, it's probably a sign that you don't understand how this Twitter machine works.

And if you carp on the same things over and over again to the point that I actually recognize your Twitter pic and roll my eyes when I read your comment, you're gone.

There's probably thirty of these people.    

4. You keep asking for answers to questions or want to know why I don't debate your opinion.

Over and over and over again.

I won't notice the first thirty times, but if you keep Tweeting the same thing to me, it's like calling someone's phone and letting it ring a billion times.

I've got Twitter caller ID, if I'm not talking to you, it's because I'm not going to respond to you.

Twitter is not AskJeeves, I'm not here to do your Google searches for you.

I'm also not going to debate you on here. Why would I spend my time debating someone with twenty followers when I regularly write exactly what I think on this site and I regularly say exactly what I think on the radio for many more people?

My positions are pretty clear. You're welcome to agree or disagree with me, but don't expect me to debate you in tiny sentences on Twitter. 

This is the smallest category of people I've blocked.

So these are my four block categories.

... 

I love to retweet smart tweeters.

Twitter remains the best invention in sports media since television. Last year I told you I believed Twitter represented salvation for sports media. Certainly Twitter is the driving force behind Outkick's success. I still believe all of this is true.

But some of y'all don't deserve nice things.

Hence, you get blocked.