Everyone has at least one family member who won’t shut up about something or another. Sometimes it’s the evangelist who turns every conversation toward some miracle product or another — other times it’s the straitjacket political analyst who blames Obama for everything from the weather to the mice that got into his pantry. These people are sometimes tolerable in small doses, but constant exposure to their insane grumblings is enough to make an otherwise sane person weigh the pros and cons of a homicidal rampage with the nearest butter knife.
Twitter has a habit of making otherwise reasonable people seem like the straitjacket-wearing evangelizers I described above. People tend to find an issue and stick with it far after many of their followers are exhausted by their injustice-fueled outrage or transparent product shilling. Twitter is like alcohol: it makes people say a lot of things they might otherwise be incapable of saying, while convincing them that they’re totally right and can still drive.
Now it seems that Twitter is willing to admit that sometimes people need to be silenced before someone either kills them or self-harms to escape their incessant grumbling. The company will now allow users to “mute” each other, which has all the benefits of blocking while still allowing for direct messages and other communications.
That isn’t to say that muting isn’t for wimps. It is. The only difference between muting, unfollowing, and blocking is that the other person knows when someone has unfollowed or blocked them. Muting sidesteps that awkwardness, which makes it handy for frustrated Twitter users who lack the courage to tap a single button to achieve the same effect.
But there are other, legitimate reasons to use the mute feature. Perhaps someone uses Twitter as a customer support tool — it’s often easier to send a tweet than to work your way through a customer service hotline — and often finds themselves following and unfollowing the social media account of whichever company they’re bothering. Muting those accounts makes it easier to directly message the company with a complaint without having to deal with all of the other mundane (or horrifying) things that social media interns tweet when they get bored.
And sometimes it’s nice to shut people up for just a few hours, like when they’re live-tweeting the latest episode of Game of Thrones or talking about a bunch of grown men running around with a ball. Tweeting about television and sports isn’t usually enough to warrant an unfollow, but if you don’t have the slightest idea of which sport someone is tweeting about, reading their tweets can be pretty frustrating. (Yes, this is a #firstworldproblem, like all Twitter problems.)
This means that muting can be a useful tool, even if it will be used mostly by wimps. Think about how wonderful it would be to mute people in real life, so they could never bother you again but wouldn’t realize you’d done something to make their cringeworthy words pass right through your ears. That would be one hell of a gift, and Twitter just gave us the online equivalent to that. We should appreciate it — or mute all the people who can’t, anyway.