Introduction & history: Part 1 of examining @The_Block_Bot - blog by Gurdur


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Introduction & history: Part 1 of examining @The_Block_Bot
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Posted 25-Sep-2013 at 12:27 AM (00:27) by Gurdur
Updated 25-Sep-2013 at 10:04 AM (10:04) by Gurdur

A few days ago, David Silverman (@MrAtheistPants, president of American Atheists) was placed on a list of people to be automatically blocked by the Twitter accounts of those subscribed to the The_Block_Bot app. What that app does is automatically block on its Twitter subscribers' accounts anyone whose name is inputted by the app's admins. The_Block_Bot is both a Twitter account and a Twitter app. The difference is that an app has access to subscribers' accounts, and can as here put listed people on block, while the Twitter account is for admin and info. Here, I will refer to the Twitter account as @The_Block_Bot, and to the app as The_Block_Bot. It was originally started by @ool0n (James Billingham) and @aratina (pseudonym Aratina Cage, real name allegedly Garrison Jackinsky). The app and account are now managed by a group, including @aratina and @ool0n (see below), all of whom are atheists.

Why was David Silverman put on the list of those to be blocked? He called for voluntary unity among atheists, and he pointed out he himself got abused by many with whom he attempted to work together regardless. That was the reason. There is a strong sentiment among some atheists that any call for unity must mean alliance with (allegedly) abusive people, and therefore calls for unity are not only rejected but also condemned in the strongest terms. Once the group running the Block_Bot realized they had gotten themselves into a pickle, they rescinded the placement of David Silverman on the list of people to be blocked However at least two of the Block_Bot management group (e.g. as ool0n did) wrote they felt David Silverman should have been kept on the list of those to be shunned and blocked.

David Silverman asked the following questions among others in regard to his being put on the block-list, and being taken off it a day later (the questions are paraphrased):
- Who were the people running The_Block_Bot app, i.e. what were their names and thus their accountability?

- How many subscribers does The_Block_Bot app have? In other words, how many people can you expect to be auto-blocked by if put on the list?

- How many times had there been similar incidents of people being put on the list, only to be taken off the list a little while later? It should be noted that in its first incarnation, @The_Block_Bot had no auto-unblocking capability. So the only way of even trying to have people unblocked was to do a manual tweet over @The_Block_Bot account, halfheartedly recommending that some particular person be manually unblocked by app subscribers. Not many subscribers to the app appear to take any notice of such tweets. So therefore any person X blocked by the Block Bot would be blocked by around 600 to 1000 people (see below), many of them not even knowing they had blocked Person X. And if the admins of @The_Block_Bot tweeted recommending Person X be manually unblocked, that relied on the subscriber seeing the tweet. Quite a few subscribers follow many people, and thus have large Twitter time-streams, and their chances of seeing any such tweet are small.
I blogged about The_Block_Bot first in a post detailing how one or more people had bought Followers for @The_Block_Bot (see below for updates on that). Tim Farley (@krelnik) blogged in detail on the code of the Block_Bot, and why it was unsuitable for use in its present form. Now it's time to analyze The_Block_Bot in detail, and to try answering David Silverman's questions, and that with data instead of unfounded assertions or emo. To do that, and to also look at exactly how The_Block_Bot app is being presented under false pretenses, it is necessary to look at a large amount of data. For maximum transparency, the raw data will be given here, as well as conclusions drawn from it.

The_Block_Bot began with @aratina doing a regular #BlockSaturday campaign on Twitter, advocating that certain people be blocked en masse by whomever listened to @aratina. Soon afterwards, @ool0n (James Billingham) wrote it up in code as a Twitter app to automize blockings for app users. The_Block_Bot is presented on its Twitter account's front page as, "Helping you to ignore the anti-feminists, bigots and fools on Twitter". That this is a very deceptive presentation is shown by several facts. A group of feminists - not anti-feminists - who talked to Twitter recently and convinced Twitter that The_Block_Bot app contravened Twitter's Terms Of Service (TOS), according to a claim by @ool0n. The actual main purpose of The_Block_Bot seems to be mainly the auto-blocking and thus group-shunning of anyone who ventures any kind of (non-abusive) criticism of Atheism+ (atheismplus) or associated issues. It has been misused in conjunction with trolling by some of its admins and associated people. The purpose of blocking trolls and selected abusive people (since as will be seen, abuse and trolling is quite tolerated if it comes from the "right" people) is very secondary to its main function, and that will be shown in this analysis, which will be spread over several blog posts.

The account and app have been used to unfairly attack many in the atheism and skepticism movements (as well as some in the feminism movement - the Block_Bot is being used to attack one group of outspoken feminists). The USA military atheists' association @RckBeyondBelief was added to the block list. Non-abusive people such as Cat Burns (a noted atheist movement organizer, @AtheistFeline), Barbara Drescher (a noted skeptic, @badrescher), Ellen-Beth Wachs (a noted atheist movement leader and organizer, @EllenBethWachs), and more were all added to the block list - and that after trolling of several of them by some of the bot's admins and adherents. @ool0n (James Billingham), who still acts as leading voice in the group that manages The_Block_Bot, has refused to answer Cat Burn's questions about why she was placed on the block list, and about the trolling and personal abuse to which she was subjected just prior to that. Ellen-Beth Wachs has likewise been subjected to abuse by some of those managing the Block_Bot.

Noted journalist and activist on religion in the USA, Becky Garrison (@Becky_Garrison) was added to the block list (by @spokesgay) for politely objecting to being abused. As said, even David Silverman (president of American Atheists, @MrAtheistPants) was added to the block list, and not for abuse either. Once the admins of the Block Bot realized they might have a PR problem on their hands, they took @Becky_Garrison and @MrAtheistPants off the block list. But by then the damage had been done for at least @Becky_Garrison, who had been put on the block list earlier, at a time when it was still allowed by Twitter as an app, and so would still be on many people's block lists (most often without them knowing it).

The_Block_Bot had relatively few subscribers till recently (see the table in the next post on this). Getting a list of subscribers to the actual app is impossible, and the present admins of The_Block_Bot app and account refuse to give any idea of how many subscribers the app has. However, there is a good proxy measure: the list of subscribers to the @The_Block_Bot Twitter account. Unfortunately, it had around 40,000 fake followers added to it, which made looking at who actually was both an actual person and who followed the account almost impossible. However, I have now compiled lists of the followers of the account, and most importantly, I have compiled the very first 1,500 people to follow that account (in other words, before the recent 40,000 bought-followers and clean-up incidents). My initial rough estimate of how many real people are using the Block_Bot app was around 800. That estimate will be made more exact. Not everyone who follows @The_Block_Bot will have been using the app; but the huge majority (of genuine accounts, prior to 19 Sept) would have been.

On Saturday 21 September 2013, as a consequence of the bought-followers incident, the admins of @The_Block_Bot scripted an auto-removal of a lot of followers, cutting it all down to 605 Followers of the account (and losing many genuine people as a result as followers). As of today, the account is following 648 people, and it has now 628 Followers. That does not affect the actual usage of The_Block_Bot app by anyone, nor does it in any way remove the blockings of people from beforehand. Just very recently, someone called @GreenBudAtheist (I have no idea who this person is, or whom he or she is allied with) claimed to have been the person to have bought @The_Block_Bot roughly 40,000 fake followers. The 605 followers left over after the automated cull might be taken as an idea of how many real subscribers there were to the app - except that cull removed a lot of genuine people too, ones who still would have the app installed (albeit defunct for the time being). One thing already learnt from the data below: @The_Block_Bot already had groups of fake followers way before the incident in which someone bought 40,000 followers. It seems very strange; see for example followers no.241 and down in the list of the original first 1,500 followers. Those fake followers came in way early, far earlier than is normal for any Twitter account in its infancy on around 240 followers. They are months-old, and they stuck around still following @The_Block_Bot, which is not at all the usual practice for spammers or similar.

The present group of those who can add names of those to be blocked to the Block Bot app list is: @ool0n, @Xanthe_Cat, @Hyperdeath128K (Christopher Benton), @Aratina, @SpokesGay, @SophiaPhotos, @MarciHawkins, @SabineYeusBleus, @Iguananaut, @Ctonry and @HereticalHomo. The admins of the app and account are @ool0n, @Xanthe_Cat and @Hyperdeath128K.

Now onto the raw data before making more analysis of it all, its managers and associated issues. Since, unfortunately, ool0n and @aratina, with a couple of others (not all) of the Block_Bot team, have been given to refusal to answer questions, being abusive, defamatory, making flatly false claims, and so on, then each and every step will need to be documented well. The first lot of some of the raw data (more later) is presented in my next blog post on this (so please go to that link).

A note on moderation for comments; as ever, please simply be adult in comments. No empty flames, no mucking around with people's names, so on. Also, for this post, given the subject matter, please stay on topic as much as possible. This is about the Block_Bot. Thanks.



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Comments are welcome! Please keep in mind if you are not registered that comments posted here to this blog post may take a while to appear - up to 16 hours after you post them, since they go onto a moderation queue and have to be individually approved, in order to stop spammers. The answer to the so-called "Random Question" is always "human".

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  1. Old Comment
    Thanks for all your hard work, Gurdur! It's very impressive!

    (I should note that I was a bit worried because you hadn't tweeted in 24 hours. Good to know that you were busy working on this documentation rather than having complications as a result of your surgery.)
    Posted 25-Sep-2013 at 04:10 AM (04:10) by An Ardent Skeptic An Ardent Skeptic is offline
  2. Old Comment
    I'd like to suggest that the bot isn't so much about blocking people (although it does that) as it is about giving the admins a sense of authority, and a chance to publicly and dramatically act out the role of moral gatekeepers.

    Every moral panic has someone who pushes their way to the forefront by waving a blacklist, and the current phobia of insufficiently orthodox forms of feminism (e.g. equity feminists, exclusivist radical feminists, etc.) is just the one we happen to be living through in our little sub-subculture at the moment.
    Posted 25-Sep-2013 at 04:11 PM (16:11) by D4M10N D4M10N is offline
    Updated 25-Sep-2013 at 04:17 PM (16:17) by D4M10N
  3. Old Comment

    Shearing followers

    It appears that followers were shed by blocking and unblocking anyone they didn't recognise as a comrade. I followed the bot to have a heads up on blockees, and so did @uberfeminist. Now we're both gone.
    Posted 25-Sep-2013 at 05:18 PM (17:18) by Stephan Brun
  4. Old Comment
    Your research skills are truly formidable.
    Posted 26-Sep-2013 at 12:04 PM (12:04) by fragranceofgod fragranceofgod is offline
  5. Old Comment


    Thanks, Gurdur, for the time and effort you put into researching, compiling, documenting this. It is invaluable.
    Posted 27-Sep-2013 at 04:33 PM (16:33) by Thaumas Themelios
  6. Old Comment

    A woman

    Just wondering about you & read your blog.
    Thanks. An eye-opener.
    Posted 28-Sep-2013 at 02:26 PM (14:26) by Maryl
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