My Year of Blocking Dangerously

It has been one year since my Twitter account was suspended. It was a jarring experience for me which unfortunately changed my behavior and engagement on my favorite platform.

It also turned me into a blocker.

Before this incident, I had prided myself on not blocking back those who had blocked me so to keep my content available for view to anyone, especially to those who had obstructed my view of their content.

And I had been blocked by some high profile pork: Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski, perhaps best known for having been disability-shamed by Donald Trump; Amazon’s Global Head of Public Policy Brian Huseman; Yimby blogger Market Urbanism, aka Stephen Smith; and xenophobic Trump supporter and onetime comedienne Roseanne Barr. Roseanne had blocked me for calling her a racist and the other three had blocked me over my anti-Amazon HQ2 stance.

But I never had blocked back. I had no reason to.

Until my account got suspended.

I had realized something might be wrong in the late afternoon of Friday, October 4, 2019 as I scampered out my front door for a meet&greet I had organized for New York District 12 congressional candidate Lauren Ashcraft: the Twitter app on my phone wasn’t loading. I closed it and reopened it several times. It was frozen.

At first, as I raced down towards Northern Boulevard, I had wondered if Twitter itself was down but a quick check on a separate browser confirmed my daunting suspicion that nothing was wrong with the site itself and that my account seemed to have been suspended.

I had been suspended once before, a few months earlier during the summer in 2019 but it was more of a “limitation:” a 12-hour timeout doled to me for my tweet to a white nationalist, threatening to report their racist rhetoric. That tweet of mine had somehow got *me* reported instead and I was placed in Twitter jail where I had received an explanation of the “temporary limitations” I would endure for the determined half day sentence, along with an ever-present countdown of when my account would be reinstated.

I knew what I had done and was given an end time.

This time around though, I was given no explanation, no time sentence, no information whatsoever.

“what’d i do?” I typed in the offered pop-up to Twitter as I hauled across to 40th Avenue, “i don’t even know what i did!”

Frowning, I turned on 23rd Street to head south towards the LocalNY hostel on 44th Avenue where I was hosting Ashcraft’s event in their lobby lounge: what exactly did I do?

 As well, I realized to my horror that a few of the people attending this event could only communicate with me via Twitter: it wasn’t just my feed which I could access, I also lost the capacity for direct messaging and interpersonal contact.

As the group arrived, we checked their newsfeeds: my throat tightened as we all saw my account definitely had been suspended. And in the moment, with nothing to be done about it, I parked my worry to the side of me, like a brick formed by hardened turds, even though I am sure my freakout patina was palpable.

We had a great night: a rousing conversation about how we could make our borough and city a more fair and equitable place to live over a few rounds of five dollar locally-produced Queens draft beers; our loud voices full of passion and hope as we sat in what was formerly an elevator factory and was now a budget boutique hostel. It was what I have become accustomed to here in my magical industrial Long Island City neighborhood: a typical Queens evening.

Ashcraft caught my deer-in-headlights eye as the night wound down and the look of abject anxiety crawled back on my face, newly distracted by my resurging thoughts on how I was going to handle what was happening and wondering anew what had set it off.

She said to me, “you got this.”

“Do I? Ugh. It’s my name, I just want it back, waaahh” I whined.

“I know,” she laughed. “You got this.”

I knew she was right; I knew I was going to figure it out, I was thankful she could see me freaking out, I was thankful to not be alone in it. I remain grateful I had something to do that night and that it was with people who support Ashcraft’s campaign, a gathering of smart and caring folks, good company.

I exhaled. She made me feel better. I put on my jacket and hugged my thanks; our night had been a success.

Ambling home in the dark and back in my thoughts, I had no idea what to expect with Twitter and still no idea what I had done.

I was already thinking what name would I have to concoct up, what variation on fuelgrannie I would have to use: fuelgrannienyc? fuelgrannietragicreturn? fuelgreatgrannie? I didn’t want to lose the perfect simplicity of my already ridiculous name, one I had been using for decades, since the internet’s inception.

And I had a suspicion, already, as I traced through the familiar streets back to my apartment building: I was starting to wonder if I had been strategically attacked.

I had certainly made a lot of enemies on Twitter but most of them were accounts I had been dealing with for months at that point, who were pro-Amazon, conservative and neolib local Yimbys. I reckoned that if this was their doing, they would have already attacked me by now, wouldn’t they have?

And the hate I have received over the years has remained thick and gooey: to this day, I am regarded as a “kook;” “fauxgressive psycho;” “spinster;” “delusional;” “bitter angry job kill[er];” “biggest liar;” “Scottish Slaveowner;” the “White Female Micro-Aggression that gave us Trump;” a veritable “Karen in the wild” with “inner ugliness” who needs to “get help.” I have often been purposefully misgendered: one user went as far, snidely, to ponder if I was transgender. My family has been mocked, including my deceased parents. After I had addressed the mocking, I was then accused of using their deaths to “gain sympathy” In two separate tweets.

I was used to being hated on Twitter but I wasn’t used to being silenced.

After all these denunciations which have been tweeted to me, and are still tweeted to me, just what was it that *I* had said which would have caused my account to be disabled at this juncture? I could not even report most of the insults tossed at me because they did not violate Twitter’s terms of service: I mean, “White Female Micro-Aggression Scottish Slaveowning Karen in the Wild” isn’t a threat. It’s untrue but there’s, oddly, no classifications for falsehood on Twitter reporting, only for threats and racial slurs.

So what, specifically, had I done or said? It was consuming not to know.

After arriving home, I announced my news via a late night pity party post on my Instagram stories, a screenshot of my greyed-out Twitter page, the avatar now an egg; my very moniker looking suspicious, like I was guilty; “account suspended.”

I pasted a sad face on the screenshot; I felt so oddly disconnected, not having access to Twitter. It was like my second mouth. I had nowhere to go to vent, other than my Instagram stories; I wasn’t about to whine about what happened on a permanent post because the more I thought about it, the more deeply I suspected that I had been targeted. For the moment, though, I wanted to keep that to my chest and not make my thoughts public.

I was exhausted, defeated and very much needing to express myself, a habit I never realized how much meant to me until it was frozen away from me.

What am I going to do? What will this adjustment look like? What name will I have to pick?

I still had my blog websites, although they had lain dormant of late. But the thought of them, of fleshing out my longform once again, felt like a future to me. And I still did “own” the name fuelgrannie, that personality is permanently linked to me, yet now I faced the odd hurdle of zero entry to the largest platform for that moniker. It was a loss to me; I didn’t understand how much of an assumption I had made that I would always have access to Twitter and to the content which I had created. My suspension earlier that summer had affected none of that: the only restriction then was a privately delivered chastisement declaring I could neither post nor like tweets for 12 hours.

This night, though, I couldn’t even open the app.

What, specifically, had caused this suspension? And, perhaps more importantly, why was it happening now? Why this week? Why this timeframe?

Because this week and timeframe did hold a significance regarding a particular faction of my adversaries, which is why I had my suspicion. My suspension had been activated less than 48 hours after a certain NYC pro-Yimby group had held their monthly meeting on Wednesday, October 2, 2019 in downtown Manhattan, the very same week this same Yimby group’s board members and members had started blocking me on Twitter. The timing to me was telling.

But I had no proof that it was them who were responsible for getting my account suspended.

And I could not rule out that all of this may in fact be due to one of my own tweets: but which one?

I was so curious. The dearth of information and explanation was a major part of my anxiety and added to my feeling of having no control. How do I fight something I am not sure of?

After a few more hours, Twitter emailed me with a copy of my own pop-up plea and instructions to write back with any other pertinent information so to appeal my suspension. Immediately, I wrote back with another “but like what did i do?” short message.

After I sent it, I dawned on me to fight more.

Another email came back from Twitter, acknowledging my recent correspondence and the same instructions to follow up.

I had a new distraction: what I would say, what I would write, to get my account back. I wanted my content back, too, not just my name and followers and I needed to construct an argument to get all that back, via this one open door. I had to plea for all the work I had done which was essentially stored and visible via my account: my tweets and threads were buckets of information; I didn’t want to lose any of the research which I had already presented. At the very least I was going to beg for a printed version of the 10 years of content I had created.

The following afternoon, Sunday, I finished and emailed my plea. Less than 36 hours later, on Tuesday morning, I got my account back.

Unshooketh.

Once I was finally able to access my profile, I immediately started blocking all the emeffers who had blocked me along with anyone else who had danced on my grave during my suspension or any accounts which had the word “Yimby” in the bio or who had pathologically supported gentrification or who had threatened violence or who had mocked my family.

Frankly, I would rather not block people. Over the course of 2019, I had gotten to a point where I had already stopped directly communicating with accounts who I had caught in lies or who had insinuated bodily harm towards me. Some of them had still tried to goad me into conversation but I ignored them. I was already comfortable and practiced in paying no heed to these few people.

Before my suspension, I had had no need to block people: I was proud not to block; proud to be visible, proud to be found, proud not to hide.

But when my voice on the platform had been shut down and silenced, with me having no idea what had happened or who had been involved, the only action I knew to take to protect my account and ultimately my voice was to block troublesome accounts.

So that’s why I block other users: that’s the reason and only reason.

Not because I “hate” those accounts or am “scared” by them or am “weak with no spine” or “can’t take discourse.”

Nope: I block people because I “do not want them fucking with my account.” Very simple.

I don’t want my voice taken away from me: that’s my priority on Twitter now. My priority used to be just expressing myself and it is, obviously, still that but it is also about just keeping my account safe from people who want to silence me and would prefer I not have or use this platform.

I used to view blocking differently: now I find it to be a fair move.

I do believe, especially now over a year’s passage of time, that my account had indeed been targeted. My understanding is that any account or tweet which receives 70 to 80 reports in a short amount of time is automatically flagged and the account suspended until further investigation. Perhaps that week where the Yimby group members had started blocking my accounts and had coincidentally also held their monthly meeting, there may have been some organization of their membership, their board and whatever sock-puppeted comrades and fellow fuelgrannie haters they could muster up. The timing is significant and telling; I cannot ignore it. Equally telling is the fact that I directly named and specifically accused that group to Twitter and got my account back less than two days later with nothing missing, neither content nor followers. It makes me suspect that Twitter found this to be a valid, cogent and potentially provable hypothesis.

My account remains Twitter-wonky to this day.

I still receive the same message every time I check my tweet stats: “Looks like there was a problem with your account,” along with its prompt to follow up with Twitter Ads; it is the exact same message I got that night when my account was frozen and has never stopped appearing.

looksliketherewasaproblemwithyouraccount
“Looks like there was a problem with your account

I have even followed up a few times on that prompt which then led me to this stilted sort of appeal process, several occasions ending with an instant rejection of appeal along with a vague reprimand to watch my language (I mean, there is literally porn on Twitter but please tell me again how offensive my account is) but there was never any addressing of any specific issue I had caused. So I have just learned to live with this chronic ad prompt.

And yes: my chronic blocking.


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