Freelancer Tax Calculator

So, it’s early 2015. If you’re a freelancer like me, you may be experiencing the cold sweats of oncoming tax season. How much am I going to owe? Do I have enough stashed in my savings to cover it (LOL “savings”?!?!)? Wait… I’ve got it! During tax season, I’ll hide under some coats and hope that, somehow, everything will work out.

My fairy godfather.
My fairy godfather.

Okay, so maybe that’s not a bulletproof plan. I figured I should probably get this sorted out at the beginning of the year: make myself a spreadsheet with formulas that will magically tell me what I owe the government, and what I will have left over to spend on rent, groceries, bills, and piles of vintage clothing (which will come in handy in case I ever do need to hide under some coats).

As soon as I made this wonderful thing, I knew it was too useful to keep to myself, so I give you… the Freelancer Tax Calculator spreadsheet! Just click the link to download it. You can delete the first row once you’ve set everything up – it’s just to show you how it works.

(If you don’t charge HST on your invoices, download this version: Freelancer Tax Calculator – No HST. Just note that all my pics below use the other spreadsheet as a reference, and your column letters will be different.)

My spreadsheet uses my marginal tax rate to automatically calculate, for each invoice, how much I need to set aside for tax time. Find out your marginal tax rate with this tool. Just click on your province or territory, and enter the amount of income you expect to make this year (you can use last year’s total as a rough guide). Jot down the amount beside “your marginal rate is…” – that’s what you’ll be using in the spreadsheet.

Once you know your marginal tax rate, you’ll want to adjust the formula in the spreadsheet’s red F-column, labelled “Income Tax” (the D-column if you’re using the spreadsheet for freelancers who don’t charge HST). To change the formula, click on cell F2 (D2 if you don’t charge HST) and you’ll see the formula appear in the box just above the top of the columns that has a “fx” beside it. The current formula takes the pre-tax invoice amount (in this case, $500) in box C2 and multiplies it by my marginal tax rate, 20.1%. So you can see the formula in the box says “=C2*0.201”. Highlight the “201” and replace it with whatever your marginal tax rate is (so if yours is 32.5%, put a “325” after the decimal place). Then hit enter. Boom!

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 4.56.01 PM

Now, you’ll want to make sure that same formula applies to all the other invoices you enter in the future. To do this, click on cell F2 (D2 if you don’t charge HST) and you’ll see a little blue square appear on the bottom right corner of the cell. Click this blue square and drag it down, down, down the F (or D) column as many rows as you think you’ll need (i.e. as many paycheques as you expect you’ll get this year). This will ensure that all values in the F (or D) column will be auto-generated based on your marginal tax rate, multiplied by the invoice amount you enter into the C column in the same row.

If you charge HST but live in a province or territory that isn’t Ontario, you will want to follow these same steps to adjust the formula for HST, which currently multiples cell C2 by 0.13 (because Ontario’s HST is 13%). Once you adjust the formula to reflect your province/territory’s HST amount, make sure you click and drag the little blue square down to apply the same formula to all other cells in that column!

EDIT: Don’t forget that if you hang onto receipts, you can take advantage of tax write-offs and ITCs (write-offs of the HST you spend) for business-related things like pens & notebooks, home office expenses, and admission to exhibits/events related to your subject area! These write-offs can bring down the total amount you owe at tax time, so it might end up being less than this spreadsheet tells you. But hey, that just means you end up with a little reward in your savings account for being such a boss-ass money babe and keeping track of your shit.

And there you have it. A way to keep track of approximately what you’ll owe at next year’s tax time (disclaimer: it probably won’t be exact! but this will mean you’re not hundreds or thousands of dollars in the hole!). Every time you get paid, just plug the pre-tax invoice amount into the C column and you’re good to go. Now you can set it aside as you go and avoid the cold sweats in early 2016. Sorry I can’t help you with this year’s tax season, but let me know if you need to borrow some coats.

Open Letter to Canadian MPs: Say No to Bill C-13

When I read West Coast LEAF’s incredible report this summer, #CyberMisogyny: Using and Strengthening Canadian Legal Responses to Gendered Hate and Harassment Online, I felt like I had found an institutional kindred spirit. I knew we agreed that cyber-sexual assault (aka: “revenge porn”) should be criminalized but Bill C-13 was not the way to do it (more on that here and here). I connected with them and we decided to collaborate on additional efforts to stop the bill without throwing out the cyber-sexual assault law baby with the state surveillance bathwater. Today, their legal team sent all MPs this excellent open letter that I’m proud to sign.

On Monday, the House of Commons votes on Bill C-13. If it passes, which it very likely will, it proceeds to the Senate. If you don’t want Bill C-13 to pass, please, take three minutes this weekend to copy and paste this letter into an email, add your name, and send it to your MP. Find your MP’s contact info here. Feel free to leave your name (and if you wish, an affiliation) in the comments if you’d like it to be added to this blog post.

October 17, 2014

An Open Letter to Members of Parliament

On Monday, October 20, you will be asked to vote on Bill C-13: The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. We the undersigned individuals and organizations concerned with women’s equality online call on you to vote against this flawed piece of legislation and demand accountability for cyber-stalkers and harassers that does not unduly infringe privacy rights.

Since Bill C-13 was first tabled in November 2013, dozens of community organizations, internet privacy experts, lawyers, academics, and the country’s Privacy Commissioner have called on the federal government to split the bill into two, and to pass the provisions that address the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and gender-based hate speech online. The provisions expanding warrantless access to internet subscriber information, a practice recently held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Spencer, must, at the very least, be subjected to additional scrutiny and analysis by constitutional experts.

Addressing the non-consensual distribution of intimate images – a form of sexualized violence targeted mainly at women and girls – is absolutely critical. While a criminal law response is only one part of the solution, the provisions of Bill C-13 making it an offence to share an intimate image of someone without their consent are a critical component of accountability for those who would use the Internet to shame, harass, and intimidate women and girls. Making the non-consensual distribution of intimate images a criminal offence is a much-needed and overdue legal reform. Passage of such a law would send a strong message to would-be abusers and hackers that this behaviour is criminal in nature and will not be ignored. It would also strengthen the legal response to these kinds of cases, and encourage victims to come forward when they have been targeted. Had such targeted legislation been proposed, we would have been pleased to support it, and have little doubt it would have passed easily into law.

Instead, however, Bill C-13 gives police easier access to the metadata that internet service providers keep on their customers, and would give immunity to companies that turn this kind of information over to police without a warrant. As you have heard from countless experts already, including some of the undersigned organizations,1 these provisions are deeply problematic and are likely unconstitutional.

The safety and security of women and girls and their right to express themselves online require that police and the criminal justice system are equipped with the tools they need to fight cyber misogyny and gender-based abuse online. However, Bill C-13 goes too far. As Carol Todd, the mother of a teen girl who was subjected to months of online harassment and sexual extortion before committing suicide as a result, told the parliamentary committee reviewing this bill: “We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety. We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, ‘sextortion’ and revenge pornography.”

Please vote against Bill C-13 on Monday, and demand instead a legislative response to cyber misogyny that holds online harassers and abusers accountable, without undue sacrifice of internet users’ privacy rights.

Yours truly,

Action Canada for Population and Development

Amata Transition House

Atira Women’s Resource Society

Battered Women’s Support Services

BC Society of Transition Houses

Canadian Council of Muslim Women

Canadian Federation for Sexual Health

National Association of Women and the Law

Native Women’s Association of Canada

Parent Support Services Society of BC

Salmo Community Resource Services

Second Story Women’s Centre

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter

West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund

Ann Rauhala, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, Ryerson University

Colleen Westendorf, Former co-organizer for SlutWalk Toronto, feminist, writer

Emma Woolley, columnist on gender & technology with the Globe and Mail

Liane Balaban, founder of

Jarrah Hodge, Canadian feminist blogger and Editor of

Jennie Faber, Director, Dames Making Games

Jesse Hirsh, President

Julie S. Lalonde, advocate for sexual assault survivors

Lyndsay Kirkham, Professor of English, Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Humber College

Sarah Ratchford, Lady Business columnist, Vice Canada

Soraya Chemaly, writer and activist

Steph Guthrie, feminist advocate, founder of Women in Toronto Politics

Tracey Young, MSW, RSW, Social work advocate, Catalyst Enterprises BC

Joyce Pielou, BSW, Child and Family Counsellor*

Judy Fleming*

Charan Gill, CEO, Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS)*

Alison Mills, feminist activist*

Sarah Hossack-Redden*

Ramona Pringle, digital producer*

*Signed on after letter was sent to MPs and published online.

1 See e.g. West Coast LEAF, #CyberMisogyny: Using and Strengthening Canadian Legal Responses to Gendered Hate and Harassment Online (June 2014), online; and West Coast LEAF’s submission to the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Bill C-13 (May 2014) online.

Friday the Thirteenth Again

The Harper government’s horrifying, draconian sex work legislation will result in violence and death for countless sex workers. It cannot pass, and in order for us to stop it, we need to scream about it. All of us. Please read and share.

The Honest Courtesan

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.  –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

red umbrella ballToday is the first Friday the 13th in fourteen months, and since I’ve picked up quite a few readers since July of 2012 a number of you are probably wondering what that has to do with anything.  Well, it’s just this:  from soon after the beginning of this blog, I’ve asked those of you who aren’t sex workers yourselves to speak up for our rights on this day.  The gay rights movement didn’t really take off until the friends and families of gay people got involved, and it’s the same for us; since only about 1% of Western women ever formally work as whores, we’re going to need a lot of help to make our voices heard.  We need all the sex workers (such…

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Transferable consent: On Bill C-13, surveillance and cyber-sexual assault

Today I was invited to speak to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights about Bill C-13, the so-called Cyber-Bullying Bill. Here’s a transcript of my speech.

Thank you for having me here today. My name is Steph Guthrie, and for the last year I’ve been speaking and writing at length about the issue Bill C-13 claims to tackle. While the bill’s name in the press is the “Cyberbullying Bill”, the more specific problem addressed by components of Bill C-13 is known as “revenge porn,” a term I hate for both its inaccuracy and sexualized sensationalism.

Whatever you call it, we’re talking about sharing sexually explicit images without the consent of the person or persons depicted. While some such cases involve hacking, in many cases the subject consented to share the images with one person for private use, such as a sexual partner, and that person then violates their trust and shares the image with others, despite the subject’s (in most cases) obviously implied expectation of discretion.

The crux of the harm inflicted here is violation of informed consent. If I share an image with another person privately, that consent is not transferable. Had I known that the other person might later share the image with others, I would be unlikely to consent to letting that person access the image to begin with. So any consent I provide to a person accessing that image is pretty clearly contingent on them keeping the image to themselves.

For me, informed consent is an integral part of privacy. Indeed, in her influential Privacy By Design framework, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian cites freely given and specific consent as a vital element of digital privacy.

Cavoukian’s principle can be applied to non-consensual intimate image-sharing, which, let’s be honest, is an incredibly clunky way of describing what is ultimately cyber-sexual assault. A survivor of cyber-sexual assault did not provide specific consent for their image to be shared with others. The perpetrator simply treated their consent as transferable to any other use, any other disclosure.

And as I’m sure some other speakers will be sharing with you, the results of this are devastating. Women (and it does mostly happen to women, though men are not immune), well, their lives are destroyed. The images follow them into their job interviews and on their first dates and to the Laundromat. In some cases the perpetrator of the cyber-sexual assault incites violence or stalking against the survivor, publishing their personal information and the dates and times of their professional engagements, encouraging their “fans” to make an appearance.

In any case, the assault constricts the survivor’s ability to live life normally and comfortably, because they are constantly living with the idea that the people they encounter may know intimate things about them that they didn’t consent to share. Even if the survivor knows they did nothing wrong, they must still deal with the judgments, misperceptions and intrusions of others. So for many survivors, their ability to move freely, safely and happily in this world is limited.

I’m fortunate to not yet have been attacked and tormented in this way, but I could be. It’s common for authorities and the media to malign people who send so-called “sexts” as teenagers with poor judgment and impulse control, but that doesn’t line up with reality. According to a Harris poll in 2012, a full 40% of people who send these images are in the 18-34 age range, and 20% of all adults sext (a Macafee survey puts that number closer to 50%). And I’m willing to bet a lot more than 50% of us have trusted a romantic or sexual partner only to learn later that our trust was misplaced. Cyber-sexual assault can and does happen to a lot of us.

When Rehtaeh Parsons died by suicide after months and months of torment from her peers and indifference from authorities following her own sexual assault, first in the flesh, then online, I heard Prime Minister Stephen Harper say that “we’ve got to stop just using the term ‘bullying’ to describe things like this. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity”. At the time I was already a vocal advocate for legislation to tackle cyber-sexual assault, and was accustomed to hearing political and legal decision-makers blame the victim, so I was cautiously optimistic at Prime Minister Harper’s remarks.

Then I realized, as many Canadians realized, that most of Bill C-13 is not really about what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons. Buried within C-13 is a set of decent Criminal Code amendments to tackle cyber-sexual assault. Though I see some minor issues with those amendments that I may refer to in the Q&A, the base for good cyber-sexual assault legislation is there in Bill C-13. But you have to dig pretty hard to find it, amid the many other sweeping amendments that more closely resemble the lawful access provisions found in Bill C-30 back in 2012 – you know, the time when Canadians were told that opposition to the bill was tantamount to support for child pornographers.

While some of the more egregious elements of the former Bill C-30 have been removed from this latest incarnation, it still significantly expands the state’s capacity for surveilling Canadians without the pesky oversight of our court system. One of the most troubling provisions in Bill C-30 was that it mandated the disclosure of user information to police without a search warrant. The newly designed provision in Bill C-13 very cleverly softens this, instead stating that police can request information, and the person or organization to whom they direct their request can voluntarily comply. However, the very next provision in Bill C-13 removes all civil and criminal liability for anyone who discloses another person’s information to police upon request.

This granting of immunity removes much of the incentive for an internet service provider to deny the request. As law enforcement officers and prominent figures of power and authority in our lives, it is also debatable the extent to which a person might feel compelled to provide the information to a police officer, even if technically they are “volunteering” to do so. In the last week, a steady stream of damning media reports have indicated that the practice of voluntarily disclosing user information to police is already in full swing amongst Canadian telecommunications companies, with the state making over a million requests for user information in the course of a year. All without warrants – i.e. without due process. All, quite obviously, without the user’s consent.

Maybe most of Bill C-13 isn’t about cyber-sexual assault, but it violates the same privacy principle of freely given and specific consent. Most of us do not and would not give free and specific consent for the state to access any and potentially all of our data by way of our internet service providers if we had any meaningful choice in the matter. The consent we give is to our internet service providers, and if the police want our information because they suspect we are engaged in criminal activity, well, most of us would assume that’s what search warrants are for. Bill C-13 enshrines the idea of transferable consent in law, immunizing anyone who shares our information and violates our privacy without adequate legal justification for doing so.

While obviously different in many ways, the limitations on personal freedom imposed by Bill C-13 bear some striking similarities to those imposed by cyber-sexual assault. The state could be following us into our job interviews, on our first dates, to the Laundromat. The Bill’s provisions will restrict Canadians’ abilities to live life normally and comfortably, because they are constantly living with the idea that the state may know intimate things about them that they didn’t consent to share. Even if they know they have done nothing wrong or illegal, they must still deal with the judgments, misperceptions and intrusions of the state. So for many Canadians, if Bill C-13 passes, our abilities to move freely, safely and happily in this world will be limited.

That’s why it pains me to say, after a year of arguing for legislation that criminalizes cyber-sexual assault, that I cannot support this legislation as written. I cannot trade one set of civil rights for another. We should separate the components of Bill C-13 that deal directly with cyber-sexual assault from those that do not, and debate them as different pieces of legislation. Not only would this be in the best interest of Canadians, but it would do greater justice to survivors of cyber-sexual assault than amalgamating their cause with another one that serves the state’s pursuit of power more than it serves Canadians.

Why the cyber-bullying bill is a lie

I’ve been slacking off on the blog this year, gang. Ever since December of last year, I’ve been meaning to blog my thoughts about Bill C-13, which the Canadian government has dubbed the “Cyber-bullying Bill”.

Chances are if you follow this blog, you know that I care a lot about the issue of revenge porn (i.e. sharing intimate images of somebody without their consent). Late last year, after an opposition MP introduced a private members bill to prohibit revenge porn, our Conservative government introduced their own. It is very likely this legislation will pass.

Since I’ve been arguing for a year that we need criminal legislation to address this issue, you’d think I would be happy about this development. I am not. Find out why by watching this episode of CANADALAND with Jesse Brown, in which I lay out the issues with the so-called “Cyber-bullying Bill,” Bill C-13. SPOILER ALERT: they should really be calling it the Surveillance Bill.

Bystander intervention and myth-making in “Anonymous vs. Steubenville”

This morning I learned that Brad Pitt’s film production company purchased the rights to “Anonymous vs. Steubenville”, a Rolling Stone article about online citizens’ investigation and exposure of a cabal of teenage rapists in middle America and their enablers, which included both teens and adults, institutions and individuals. An advocate for Jane Doe, the unidentified survivor of the Steubenville rape, claims she is seeking input on the film. This whole thing could go very well, or very poorly.

So far, discussion around the new film has centred on the story frame created by the Rolling Stone article, which largely erases Jane Doe, and entirely erases the female blogger, Alexandria Goddard, who exposed the story and shone a beacon on it for Anonymous to discover. Instead, the Rolling Stone story focuses on Deric Lostutter, the Anon who became known as KYAnonymous and famously faces more jail time than the Steubenville rapists for his role in bringing them to justice.

Some folks think this framing is a bad thing, because the last thing we need is another story about sexual assault that erases the survivor in favour of crowing about the heroic man who intervened. Others disagree, arguing that we need to be telling more stories about men challenging rape culture and sexual assault.

I’m inclined to agree with both viewpoints. The truth is, men have an important role to play in solving the problems of rape culture and sexual assault, and it couldn’t hurt to give them more role models for bystander intervention. I think, for me, the problem lies in making the men who do intervene into heroes, and their interventions into acts of heroism and bravery, rather than imperfect acts of support and respect. This mythologization can actually make the act seem more intimidating to perform, and gives people license to stand down if that’s easiest for them, because they’re not a HERO or anything.

I understand that it can be intimidating to stand up to your colleagues if they are making rape jokes, or to tell your friends how fucking predatory it is that they’re scanning the party like Terminators to find the drunkest girl to bring home. Toxic masculinity means that some will interpret these acts as betrayals of your bros. And because of the aggressive ways in which men are socialized to respond to challenge, I understand it also opens up the possibility of physical violence in some cases, and we all need to be careful about that.

So okay, I get it, it can take guts to intervene as a bystander. But make no mistake, these are not True American Hero guts – they are Regular Decent Person guts, and we can all find them in ourselves if we do a little digging. In the case of sexual violence and rape culture, indeed, we all must find these Regular Decent Person guts in ourselves, because it will take that many acts of intervention, that many confrontations, that many snubbings at the bar or in class or at work, that many destroyed “personal brands”, that many damaged or ended friendships (among many, many other things), to solve the problem.

When I was in university, I found myself in a very Jane Doe-like situation: I was black-out drunk and, when my friends turned away for a mere minute, a man I didn’t know (who was sober) whisked me into his car, drove me to my house and raped me. It took a few weeks to begin to understand what happened to me as rape, because of the many messages our culture sends to the contrary (through vessels ranging from the film The 40 Year Old Virgin to my own roommates). One reason I did come to understand it as rape was through the counsel and support of a few close friends, including a couple I knew named Chris and Candace.

A couple of months after my rape, Chris and Candace and I went out to the same bar where my rapist had found me. As the night wound down, we were smoking out front when a good friend of Chris’s approached us to say hello. The friend said, “I want to introduce you to a buddy of mine,” and who should that buddy be but my rapist. I flushed and turned away. After exchanging a few words with Candace (i.e. “That’s him.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” “Nope.”), Candace whispered the guy’s identity to Chris. My rapist held out his hand, to be shaken by Chris. Chris looked at my rapist’s hand like it was covered with snakes.

After what seemed like hours, Chris said slowly and clearly, “I can’t shake this fucking guy’s hand.” His friend looked confused. My rapist looked like he was trying to appear confused, which infuriated me so deeply that my anger exploded in a shove (sorry, I am not an advocate of physical violence, but please, this guy raped me), pitting him against a nearby garage door. In front of a crowd of people smoking nearby, I screamed that he might want to wipe that confused look off his face, since a couple of months prior he raped me without a condom while he was sober and gave me a curable STI. I wasn’t embarrassed, I just wanted everyone witnessing the confrontation to know exactly what he had done. Then I ran away crying, because yeah. When Candace caught up to me a few moments later, she told me that Chris had punched my rapist (again, sorry, see above) and was now having a conversation with their mutual friend about why he should not befriend my rapist.

Chris’s response in this situation was not perfect, and is not intended as a script for how one should always deal with these situations. But he intervened in a way that demonstrated clear support for me, first and foremost, as well as challenging rape culture. Chris wasn’t a hero, he was just my friend. He knew that, if he cared about me and my right to exist in safety without feeling like I can never again return to this bar or be in the presence of his friend again, it was incumbent upon him to act. So he found his Regular Decent Person guts, and he acted in the ways that made the most sense for him in that moment.

I almost wonder if understanding bystander intervention as a challenging act, rather than a supporting one, is part of why men’s intervention in cases of violence against women is so likely to be deemed heroism rather than care and responsibility. Perhaps it’d be helpful if we understood bystander intervention as support and care for the survivor first and foremost, which is in and of itself a challenge to rape culture and gender violence. Maybe then, stories about bystander intervention in cases of violence against women wouldn’t be reduced to, as my friend Heather Cromarty so succinctly put it, “Good Men vs. Bad Men, and damn the ladies in between.”

Don’t drain the moat, Twitter. #RestoreTheBlock

Google definition of "block" as a verb

What does “block” really mean, anyway? A cursory Googling bears out the definition above: “make the movement or flow in […] difficult or impossible,” “put an obstacle in the way of,” “restrict the use or conversion of,” or “hinder or stop the movement or action of.”  According to Twitter, on the other hand, “block” just means “blindfold oneself.”

Twitter’s block function has never been perfect. In the old days, blocking a user did not prevent them from tagging you in tweets or signing out of Twitter to view your tweets (if your profile was public). However, blocking someone at least used to kick them from following you and added an extra step if they wished to continue accessing your tweets. Twitter’s newly announced changes to their block function mean that this step is no longer necessary; blocking a user does not prevent them from following you, viewing your timeline while signed in, or interacting with you in any way.

As Zerlina Maxwell points out, this means that harassers can now retweet a user who has blocked them and incite their own followers to join in the fun. It also means that the only way to prevent an abusive user from following you is to set your account to “private.” Many astute Twitter users like Hijabinist and‘s Trudy and have pointed out that this creates a chilling, silencing effect for the voices of marginalized folks who are most vulnerable to harassment and least represented in mainstream discourse.

There are many reasons to set one’s account to “private” and it’s a personal choice. But is it really a “choice” when folks who deal with online violence like stalking, threats and harassment are told that going private is the only way to control – at any level – their contact with an aggressor? Is fair to remove people’s access to a public platform, and all its tangible social, personal, political and economic benefits, for reasons they cannot control (i.e. another person’s abusive behaviour)? Some people’s jobs revolve around the ability to tweet publicly. Should they change careers because of another person’s abusive behaviour?

In cases of abusive behaviour, the old policy at least placed the (admittedly mild) consequences in the abuser’s court: “you now must face an extra hurdle to access this person’s content, and you will not have the ability to retweet it.” The current policy places consequences for abusive behaviour in the target’s court: “deal with this person’s stalking or cease your participation in a major online public square while your aggressor continues to enjoy a public platform.” There is something about this that smacks profoundly of blaming the victim.

Unsurprisingly, no shortage of Twitter users (almost entirely men so far) have come at me with pompous assertions that it makes sense to loosen the policy because of the old block function’s shortcomings. I can’t even begin to address the flaws with the argument that “Harassers have always been able to log out and view your tweets, so it makes total sense to remove the necessity of logging out at all”, though Ana Mardoll does a decent job of it. The old policy was not a fortified wall protecting against online harassment, but it was a moat of sorts. Easily passable, sure, but many would look at the inconvenience of getting their clothes wet and say “ugh, to hell with it.”

Some folks have suggested the change is benevolent because it clears up a false sense of security some people may have felt by blocking someone. But why wouldn’t Twitter simply clear up the misinformation about the old block function? Twitter seems to have no problem being clear about what blocking does and doesn’t do now, after the policy change. Could they not have made a public statement to ensure users were aware of the old block function’s limitations, instead of applying a change that favours abusers? The old block function may never have been a fortified wall, but that does not in any way justify draining the moat.

For me, privacy rests on two key principles: consent (I know what I am getting into and have the opportunity to say no) and control (to share what I want with whom I want and prevent contact with who I wish). If my only opportunity to say “no” is to say nothing at all, that’s not really consent. If my only opportunity for control is to disappear, that’s not really control.

Goldie Taylor hits the nail on the head when she says “Privacy should not require fully closed or fully open. All social networks should be ‘selectively permeable’ with user control.” General PSA for mansplainers telling me that “Twitter is a public space! Either deal with being vulnerable to anyone who wants to contact you, go private or GTFO”: online privacy does not have to be an all-or-nothing game. And an imperfect mode of personal protection is not a valid argument for no mode of personal protection at all.

The new Twitter block policy is yet another example of how institutions and organizations (including social media platforms) typically reflect dominant societal views. In this case, the dominant societal view is that the onus for preventing abusive behaviour rests with the person being abused. This view holds especially true when the target of abuse is marginalized on the grounds of race, gender, sexuality, physical or mental dis/ability, gender expression, etc. Perhaps if more of these traditionally marginalized voices were involved in conceiving and building the tools we use to communicate with one another, those dominant societal views might change. But it seems that Twitter has a long way to go in that regard. In the meantime, we’re left with a “choice” between total vulnerability and forced silence.

Update: In response to public outcry, Twitter reversed the changes discussed in this article. Massive props to Suey Park, who created the #RestoreTheBlock hashtag, and everyone who participated.