Twitter’s like button — the heart at the bottom of a Tweet — is one of the more enduring and popular parts of the Twitter experience. So it took some by surprise to see a story published earlier today claiming that Twitter would “soon” be removing the feature.
Not so soon, it seems. Twitter today said that while it’s been “considering” a move to remove the “Like” button for a while now — CEO Jack Dorsey has mentioned it more than once over the the last few months — there is no timeline for the move, nor is it happening in the near future.
“As we’ve been saying for a while, we are rethinking everything about the service to ensure we are incentivizing healthy conversation, that includes the like button,” the Twitter Comms account noted. “We are in the early stages of the work and have no plans to share right now.”
What’s the backstory here? Twitter’s heart button — which controversially replaced a star back in 2015 — gets used by millions as a quick way of sending an acknowledgement of what someone else has written, without the full force of a re-tweet. It also can be a way to help you track things you found interesting but are otherwise likely to forget.
But nothing is sacred on social media, and so it seems that even the simple heart has become subject to abuse. As with any Tweet, one that is harassing or harmful, or that might contain incendiary content, will go viral when it gets Re-Tweeted.
But if a large amount of people — or, maybe just as likely, bots — like that Tweet, this can also help push it along in Twitter’s algorithms, where it gets surfaced in lists, in your notifications, and in people’s timelines because of its popularity. Thus, when that Tweet might have a nefarious intention, hearts can lead to heartbreak.
In the meantime, the company has been on a long-term process of rethinking what it can do on its platform to make it less toxic — or as Twitter might say it, improve public conversation.
Its strike rate is not always perfect, though. Just this weekend, it emerged that it had given a pass to a user who had been reported as abusive on the platform: it turned out that it was the person sending bombs in the mail to public figures. (His account has since been suspended and Twitter has apologised.)
On a more productive level, Twitter has been expanding options it gives users to save Tweets that are less ‘social’, such as the creation of Bookmarks, which are private to the user creating them — in effect creating a new tool to replicate one of the ways that the like button has been used.
Removing ways of responding to Tweets seems anathema to the idea of a conversational platform, although there are many options for what Twitter might consider before removing the heart (or whatever shape its fave/like takes) altogether: they could include a variety of responses similar to Facebook’s, or changing how a like affects a Tweet’s position in Twitter’s wider algorithms.
Twitter’s move to reconsider the like button and what it does isn’t ridiculous in that context, although abandoning it abruptly would be odd, and potentially controversial in itself. Or perhaps not: the company’s stock is up nearly four percent in trading this morning.