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Limiting contact with an abusive account and limiting exposure to abusive content—via features like blocking, muting, and restricting—can help you protect yourself from unwarranted, inappropriate, or harmful conduct.

Keep in mind, however, that these features are distinct and each has trade offs. To use these features effectively, it’s important to understand what they do.

Blocking

Blocking allows you to limit contact and communication with abusers, specifically to: “1) restrict access that an account has to your content and profile and 2) make content made by the blocked account no longer visible to you.”** Many major platforms enable you to block accounts from communicating via comments and DMs.

Muting

Muting allows you to hide specific abusive content—but only from yourself. In other words, muting “enables you to remove a specific piece of content, user, or keyword from your feed and/or notifications so it is no longer visible to you by default.”** Depending on the platform, you can mute: accounts; comments; DMs; notifications; and specific content, by keyword and hashtags, in your feed. Snoozing and hiding are often quite similar to muting.

Restricting

Restricting means completely different things on different platforms (see details below). The Restricting feature on Instagram, rolled out in 2019, is especially useful. By restricting an abusive account on Instagram, you place all comments from that account on your posts behind a screen, which you can then choose to review and decide whether to publish, delete, or leave “pending” indefinitely. Abusers are not alerted to the fact that their ability to communicate with you has been limited (which makes restricting different from blocking). Only the abuser can see the abusive content—you and all other users on your posts cannot (which makes restricting different from muting).

To Keep in Mind

Blocking and muting, while hugely useful features in some contexts, can have drawbacks for vulnerable users, especially journalists and writers. After blocking or muting an abusive troll, posts or messages about you can continue to proliferate in the same forum without your knowledge, potentially adding new anxieties about the content you’re not seeing. Asking a trusted confidant to monitor messages or mentions associated with your username can help assuage some of this anxiety. You should also be aware that in some cases, blocking can exacerbate or escalate harassment because abusers can see that they’ve been blocked and will sometimes tout that to others. In author Celeste Ng’s experience:

The really dedicated trolls love to be blocked. They take great delight in creating a new account to troll you again, and in tagging their troll friends to come and harass you, too. It’s a hydra effect: you block one, you get half a dozen new ones.

Muting, hiding or restricting can provide good alternatives to blocking because abusers do not know that they’ve been muted, hidden, or restricted. Ultimately, only you can decide what feels right for you. If you do decide that any of these features provide a helpful way to deal with a harasser—even for a brief period of time—take a look at the list of platform-specific tools and plug-ins below.

Platform by Platform

Each of these features works slightly differently on each platform (which is wildly confusing!). As tech companies’ features evolve, we’ll do our best to update the information below.

Twitter

  • In-Platform Feature: Blocking
    NOTE: When you block an abuser on Twitter, they cannot see any information on your profile, but they will know they’ve been blocked.
  • In-Platform Feature: “Muting” on Twitter
    NOTE: You can mute entire accounts and individual tweets by keywords, phrases, hashtags, and emojis, including for a limited time period. You cannot mute DMs, however, but you can mute the notifications announcing DMs. An abuser will not know if you mute them.
  • In-Platform Feature: Restricting Replies
    NOTE: You can restrict replies to your Tweets so that either “Everyone,” “People you follow,” or “Only people you mention” can reply. This can limit an abuser’s ability to harass you in the replies to your Tweets.
  • In-Platform Feature: Hiding Replies
    NOTE: If you don’t want to restrict replies on your Tweets so that only people you follow or mention can comment, but you’re concerned about a specific account or comment, you can manually hide replies that you don’t want to show up in your comments. People can still access hidden replies, but will have to click through a hidden reply icon to do so.
  • In-Platform Feature: Filter Notifications
    NOTE: You can apply filters to your notifications, including turning on a “Quality Filter” (for eg, no notifications of duplicated or automated tweets) and “Advanced Filters” (for eg, no notifications from accounts you don’t follow, accounts without a phone number, etc.)
  • Third-Party Tool:  Block Party
    An app that gives you more control over blocking harassers and reviewing muted content. You can fine tune which content you want to mute, which is then filtered into a Lockout Folder, where it can be reviewed and managed at any time. You can assign helpers (trusted friends who can sort through unwanted content) to help you block, mute, monitor for threats, etc.

Facebook

  • In-Platform Feature: Muting (ish)
    NOTE: On Facebook, there’s no exact equivalent to muting, but you can snooze accounts or groups for 30 days, mute other users’ stories, permanently unfollow posts without unfriending accounts, and unfriend accounts altogether. For Facebook Pages, you can prevent comments with certain keywords from appearing on your Page. For Facebook Profiles, however, you cannot filter comments by keywords. 
  • In-Platform Feature: Restricted List
    NOTE: If you want to limit the visibility of information on your Facebook profile for specific friends, without unfriending them, you can add them to your Restricted Listthey will then only be able to see your public profile information.
  • In-Platform Feature: Hiding and Deleting Comments
    NOTE: You can hide comments on your posts so that they are only visible to the user who posted the comment and their friends, or you can delete comments altogether. 

Instagram

  • In-Platform Feature: Blocking
    NOTE: When you block on Instagram, your account disappears entirely from the standpoint of the blocked abuser; they can see your comments on other people’s posts, but cannot interact with your comments. Instagram will retroactively remove comments and likes from blocked accounts.
  • In-Platform Feature: Muting
    NOTE: Instagram enables you to mute posts or stories, filter comments by keywords or preset filters, and mute accounts entirely. 
  • In-Platform Feature: Restricting
    NOTE: When you restrict an account on Instagram, the restricted account can’t see when you’re online or whether you’ve read their messages. Their comments on your posts will remain hidden (from you and all other users) unless you choose to view the comment and approve it to be visible to others. 
     
  • In-Platform Feature: Hiding Stories
    NOTE: You can hide posts to your Instagram story from certain users without them being notified. 

WhatsApp

  • In-Platform Feature: Blocking
    NOTE: On WhatsApp, you can only block individual accounts. You cannot block groups; you will need to exit a group to stop receiving its messages. When you block an individual, that account can no longer see your updated status.
     
  • In-Platform Feature: Muting group notifications and Muting contacts
    NOTE: On WhatsApp, you can only block individual accounts. You cannot block groups; you will need to exit a group to stop receiving its messages. When you block an individual, that account can no longer see your updated status.  

YouTube

  • In-Platform Feature: Blocking a commenter 
    NOTE: On YouTube, you can block specific abusers from commenting on your videos, but they can still see any videos you post publicly. 

Medium

  • In-Platform Feature: Blocking
    A step-by-step guide for blocking abusive users on Medium
  • In-Platform Feature: Hiding or Disabling Comments
    NOTE: You can hide individual comments on your Medium posts or close the discussion entirely, effectively disabling the comments on a post.

WordPress

Tumblr

  • In-Platform Feature: Blocking
    Information from Tumblr’s Help Center about how to block specific users from your different devices
  • In-Platform Feature: Limiting Replies
    NOTE: Tumblr allows users to limit replies to their posts from “Most inclusive,” which allows anyone to reply to your post, to “Least inclusive,” which limits replies only to Tumblrs you follow.

**Meedan’s Content Moderation Toolkit, forthcoming