Illustration: Jordan Speer

Bad Ideas

‘Brand Blockers’ Are Trying to Scrub Their Feeds Clean of Every Advertiser on Twitter

I’ve blocked over 1,000 brands on Twitter, and I can’t stop them

OneZero
Published in
5 min readFeb 3, 2020

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Welcome to Bad Ideas, a column in which we examine the practical limits of technology by considering the things you could do and then investigating exactly why you shouldn’t. Because you can still learn from mistakes you’ll never make.

TTwitter users love to joke that they “can’t believe this website is free.” But the website hasn’t really been free since 2010, when Twitter introduced the promoted tweet. The average Twitter user might not be paying anything, but the brands are. Twitter reported $702 million in advertising revenue in Q3 of 2019, an 8% increase over 2018.

That money results in ads and sponsored posts — lots of them. Last year, Twitter experimented with increasing the amounts of promoted tweets, which led to an uptick in ads that were either offensive, absurd, or both. (Coincidentally, 2019 marked a watershed moment in Brand Twitter when the Sunny D account tweeted that it was depressed.)

Heinz ketchup? Blocked. Salesforce? Blocked. During one 24-hour stretch, Twitter only served me promoted tweets from NFL teams. They all got blocked.

Luckily, Twitter also lets you block accounts. Unlike Facebook, where users can only “hide” advertisements they don’t like, and Instagram, where you can block brand accounts but are still subjected to advertisers who are not on Instagram, Twitter is one of the few platforms where users still have the final say over how they can be advertised to. In theory, at least, you can block out every advertiser on the platform. Through a healthy use of the block button, could I turn my feed into an ad-less, post-capitalist utopia? I decided to find out.

Over the past three months I followed a simple rule: If I saw a promoted tweet in my feed, I would block the associated account. For the first few weeks, it completely changed my Twitter experience. After years of being a passive consumer of whatever nonsense was paid to be inserted into my feed, to just up and block Starbucks…

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