Twitter's flip flop on user blocking

Yesterday Twitter announced a change to its blocking policy. Under the old system, when you blocked someone, you vanished from their feed and they vanished from yours. But under the new policy, someone who had been blocked would still see the tweets of the person who blocked them -- the blocker could still be followed. The changes upset a whole lot of users, who made their opinions known all over social media. The backlash was big enough to cause Twitter to reverse its decision and go back to the old policy.

Never before have people been able to give feedback to a business so quickly and in such volume. Sometimes that feedback is positive. But when it's negative, it puts companies on the spot in a very public way. "Maybe that feedback signals to the company, we've got to explain this better and educate our customers and make them understand why this is for the best," says Dr. Andrew Stephen, a professor at the Katz School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh.

In Twitter's case, it chose not to explain why it thought the new blocking policy was good for users. It just reversed the policy. Another example of this sort of reversal is when GAP unveiled its new logo. People hated it. They said so on the internet and poof! Gone was the new logo. Companies are now under pressure to respond to feedback as it comes in.

"I don't' know if that's always positive," says Stephen Walls, a senior lecturer at The McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas.

Fear over social media backlash can mean companies lose their ability to explain themselves. And it makes it difficult to do things like experiment with a new policy. "Certainly for companies it does create this amplification system, for better or for worse," says Walls.

It can mean free word of mouth advertising or a sudden crisis. This is the delicate balance that companies like Twitter have to maneuver, as they deal with issues of user security and privacy which added Wells, "is especially difficult since we're changing how we feel about that probably on a daily basis."

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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