Social media. Whether it's Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin, or some other platform, people are spending a good portion of their days scrolling through feeds, posting items, and occasionally finding themselves agitated by something they see online. According to Statista, a provider of market and consumer data headquartered in Hamburg, Germany, the usage of social media worldwide was 135 minutes per day in 2017. In spite of occasional calls to boycott one site or another, overall usage appears to be holding steady.
A reader we're calling Walter considers himself a frequent social media user. He regularly posts to various platforms and responds to posts others have made, often disagreeing with the original poster of an item.
Apparently, occasionally Walter's disagreements don't sit well with these posters and they block him. As a result, he can't see any of their posts nor can he post any responses to their sites.
"Why have a public account on Twitter if you're not going to let people see it?" asks Walter, noting that any user can set his or her site so that only select people can see it online. "I just disagree with people's posts sometimes. I don't write anything offensive or inappropriate."
Walter wonders if there's something ethically wrong with people being able to block others simply because they don't like their posts. Clearly, he believes it's not right.
Regardless of whether it's right to block, it's not unusual. In one high profile instance President Donald Trump blocked author Stephen King after King posted a suggestive comment to the president. In response, King blocked Trump and indicates he decided to block Vice President Mike Pence while he was at it. In an additional bit of folderol, author J.K. Rowling offered to step in and direct message all of the president's tweets to King so he could read them if he wanted to.
If it all sounds to you like a bit of petty high school shenanigans, I'm not sure you're far off.
But to Walter's question about the rightness or wrongness of blocking someone simply because you disagree with someone. Unless the site is an official site of a government official or agency where public information should be available to all, it is perfectly fine to block whoever you want to block. (Some question whether the president should be permitted to block anyone from reading tweets from his personal account since he is a public official. Since the president's tweets become public record, I agree that they should be open to all to read.)
Walter's blocker, however, was just a private citizen on Twitter voicing a strong opinion with which Walter disagreed and felt the need to tweet so.
If Walter doesn't agree that blocking people is OK, then the right thing for him to do is to refrain from blocking anyone. But as he continues on with his daily social media routine, he should recognize that having a strong opinion does not give him the right to take away someone else's right to block him.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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