After receiving an unusually high number of abusive comments on Twitter, MCJN's Communications Coordinator Abir Kopty decided to test Block Party, a new application designed to limit the exposure to cyber bullying.
Like many Palestinian journalists and activists, my social media posts, especially on Twitter, have received a lot of attention in the past few months. I’ve been reporting and commenting on major events, such as the struggle of Palestinian families threatened with eviction from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, the Israeli assault on Gaza, and the violence against Palestinians living inside Israel. But for someone who comments on Palestinian affairs on an almost-daily basis, the level of engagement and reactions to my posts this time was unprecedented. It was so large to an extent that I couldn’t keep up with the comments and replies. The events in Palestine were overwhelming and I wanted to focus on following developments on the ground.
The level of eactions to my posts this time was unprecedented. It was so large to an extent that I couldn’t keep up with the comments and replies
When I was finally able to look at those comments, I realised that I was receiving “hate tweets”, particularly from pro-Israeli accounts. This has happened before, and I usually don’t engage with such accounts and just ignore them. But this time the frequency was higher. So when I came across “Block Party”, which is a new tool that helps users minimise their exposure to cyberbullying, I thought this could be a good option to deal with the comments I was receiving, and to be prepared for any future attacks of harassment and hate.
According to their website, Block Party was developed by online harassment experts to help social media users “use the Internet on their own terms and not be subjected to harassing, abusive or simply unwanted content”. So what it does, in a nutshell, is allow you to filter out abusive messages so you don’t have to be exposed to them constantly. Before I jump into the details, I can give you a quick verdict now and say that, yes, Block Party is an excellent tool, save for three drawbacks. First of all, there’s no app yet. Block Party is only available for use on your browser (including a mobile-friendly browser), but the founders say they aim to develop an app in the future. Second, Block Party can only be used on Twitter, so if you’re receiving hate messages on Facebook or Instagram, then you need to wait for Block Party to expand their services to those platforms. The third issue is that the website is in English, so Arabic users will need to have some knowledge of English, or use auto-translation tools like Google Translate.
Overwhelmed by the use of so many digital platforms, I’m always reluctant to use a new digital tool. But I must say that I found the interface of Block Party really simple and easy.
There are three options if you want to sign up. You can join the waitlist by requesting an invitation from Block Party. I used this option and received an invitation within hours. You can also skip the waitlist and pay $8. This means the website will ask for your credit card information, so it might not be an option for many of us, especially those who avoid online shopping for cyber-security reasons. The third option is to get an invitation from a friend who is already a registered Block Party user. So now that I’m a user, you can ask me to send you an invitation!
Potential trolls, based on your filtering set-up, will not appear in your “mentions’ notifications” and will go straight into the “Lockout Folder”. You can go to that folder and review them whenever you want.
Block Party uses two-factor-authentication which is really important to secure your account. You can decide if you want to use your phone to receive text messages with a code or use an authentication app, which is a separate app that generates a one-time code that you use to confirm that it's you who is logging in. You can use Authy, which is highly recommended by experts. Another safe option, from Cisco, is Duo.
Once you have created an account, Block Party allows you to create filters to decide what type of accounts you want to mute. This will remove their tweets and replies from your Twitter page and put them into a special folder (the “Lockout” folder), which you can access later.
You have two options for filters; “moderate” and “strict”. Under the “moderate” option, for example, you can mute accounts that look new, and/or have less than 100 followers and/or have no profile photos because such accounts are more likely to be trolls. If you go with the “strict” option, you can decide that you only want to hear from accounts that you follow, and accounts followed by accounts you follow, and/or verified users, and/or accounts that you have replied to recently.
After you set your filters and click save, you are ready to go. Potential trolls, based on your filtering set-up, will not appear in your “mentions’ notifications” and will go straight into the “Lockout Folder”. You can go to that folder and review them whenever you want.
In the “Lockout Folder”, you will be able to see the replies to your tweets and the accounts that tweeted them. You may find that “Block Party” has muted accounts that you already know, or accounts from people whom you would like to follow, so in this case you can unmute them. As for the trolls, you can either keep them muted or block them altogether. Whichever option you choose, “Block Party” will mark those accounts as “reviewed” so you don’t have to keep reviewing them each time you go to the “Lockout” folder.
It’s the easiest thing to go after a female journalist because she said something someone doesn’t like. The argument stops being about her opinion, and she is attacked for her perceived behavior, lifestyle, body, family etc.
Sometimes, if you are not sure about an account you can put them on a “Watchlist” so you can keep an eye on them in case they mention you again. After adding them to the watchlist, you can still mute these accounts, and their tweets or replies to you will still be archived in your watchlist even if the account is deleted or suspended. This is a way for you to save evidence of harassment in case you want to follow up with a complaint or a report to Twitter.
It is important to remember that none of the accounts that you mute, unmute or add to your watchlist will be made aware of your activity. None of these actions will be known to anyone except you.
In my case, I mute tweets from pro-Israeli accounts that have attacked me. Although they had a small number of followers, they tweeted a lot of hate speech and racism against Palestinians. It was important for me to block such accounts, and keep others on “mute”, because I don’t want to let them bother or distract me. At the same time, I decided to add those accounts to my watchlist to archive their tweets against me as evidence. But like every tool out there, Block Party’s criteria meant that it also filtered replies from friendly accounts who were just amplifying my messages, so I unmuted them to be able to engage with them.
I do not check my Block Party account every day. This is the good part. I also set their email notifications to once a week instead of once a day because I didn’t want to keep receiving information about detected accounts.
Every journalist will set their own preferences according to the size of the problem facing them. For the time being, I’m not being seriously trolled, but you never know what could happen. A single tweet, or a single article, might drive some people crazy and stir up a storm of abusive tweets.
As journalists, we see this happen a lot. It’s the easiest thing to go after a female journalist because she said something someone doesn’t like. When it’s a female journalist, the argument stops being about her opinion, and she is attacked for her perceived behavior, lifestyle, body, family etc. Some of us have already experienced this and are still dealing with the repercussions. We should always seek ways to protect ourselves, find support and - when possible and effective - take action to stop the harassment.
If you are experiencing any bullying on the internet, you can go to The Online Violence Response Hub, a project by The Coalition Against Online Violence.