My friends over in the Inspirational niche are fond of saying “Life Is What You Make It”, but this is especially true of one’s online experience. Since the long ago bad old days of Compu$erve (and Holly can correct me if I’m wrong I suspect also GEnie) every user has the right to control what is on their screen. And no user has the right to dictate another’s participation. If you do not want to see my avatar and hear my point of view, you have every right to block me, so that nothing I say appears in your stream (and I must say that Facebook has come a long way on this– in the Compu$erve days you could still see where some one had posted in a thread, although their actual message was not visible you could still their user ID and the message header– on Facebook it really is like you sat shiva for the person you blocked and they are dead to you and simply do not appear on your screen. You get an error page if you try to click on their content and you really, really need never know that the person you have blocked continues to live right there in your same online neighborhood.
I’ve met a great many people who publicly state that they have never blocked anyone. I’m never entirely sure if this is simple boasting, by people who have actually used a block button in their time, whether some folks have a moral hangup that it is not okay to block people or if perhaps some of my friends really are so saintly that they get along with absolutely everyone. (I am not denying nor discounting this last as a possibility, though I can’t honestly say I’m betting on it either.) In my considered opinion, simply blocking a user whose input you do not value and whom you do not feel you can have a pleasant and productive interchange with is the most polite course of action possible when you run into someone who “rubs you the wrong way” or whose attitudes and opinions you find particularly distasteful. Note that I am not in any way whatsoever suggesting that you block all people who disagree with you.
I have been making and keeping friends online for more than twenty years now. It was many, many years ago (on a trip to Washington, DC for the March On Washington for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights in 1993 I think) that I first met face to face a large number of people I had chatted with online for a long time. While I fully understand the phenomenon of new users thinking of the people they chat with on their computer screen are somehow different than or even odder somehow less human than the people they live with, the people they work with or the people they ride the bus with or go to the movies with. I absolutely positively don’t have separate categories “online friends” and “real friends”. For me they are all just friends. I absolutely urge you to block (or just unsubscribe) anyone who becomes a real negative to your online experience. And if you find that someone has blocked you, try to remember that blocking was in fact a great deal more polite than telling you to your face precisely why they do not want you in their life.