Niki Cheong is blogging

Is Twitter your Favorite, or do you Heart it?

This afternoon, for a while, my Twitter timeline was filled with hearts.

For a second, I thought — wow, positivity on Twitter? That’s a novelty!

Turns out, it was mostly a lot of negative reaction to Twitter’s replacing of the ‘star’ button (favourites) with a heart.

Admittedly, I also shared a bit of concern (and really enjoyed re-tweeting some of the funnier responses, including the few graphics from BuzzFeedUK).

For one, why change something that already works? Secondly, amid all the other issues with Twitter, this is what the company chooses to roll out?

Turns out that I quickly felt differently, especially what was troubling most people. The general feel that I got was that people felt that a ‘heart’ (equivalent to a social media ‘Like’) would be seen as an endorsement. A ‘star’ (or favourite), for them, doesn’t.

On the surface, this seems like an issue of semantics. After all, the above argument about favourites only holds from one interpretation of the word — i.e. “This tweet, for whatever reasons, is interesting enough for me to want to save it”.

But there is also another way of interpreting the term ‘favourite’ — “I like this tweet”. Which, essentially, can be seen as an endorsement.

The latter was how I used to view the ‘star’. In fact, I was so adamant about not using it because it would be seen as an endorsement that I kept sending tweets I wanted to save to an Evernote account for a very long time.

But when the new culture became accepted — that a ‘star’ was not necessarily an endorsement, but a bookmarking tool — I was ready to change my habits.

For me, then, and I suspect for many people, the issue isn’t one of semantics but in fact, one of implementation.

The button is, and can be, whatever you want to make of it.

Granted, I understand that there might be complexities in the issue. Someone on Twitter, for example, mentioned (joked?) that all his ‘stars’ on terrorist-related tweets might make him a suspect now that he is seen to have ‘heart’ those tweets. But I hope (optimistically) policy, and the law, would be sophisticated enough to understand and consider the complexities of online behaviour.

Across a variety of social platforms, we have empowered ourselves as users to use functionalities offered to us by these networks in our own way — some of which have marked significant cultural change (the RT function, to use as an example, was completely user devised).

Take our Facebook behaviour into consideration — we all use the Like button differently, in different contexts. At times, it is used to endorse a post, and other times, such as when you get tons of birthday wishes, we use it merely to acknowledge sight of the wishes (Facebook noticed this behaviour enough to let us post a huge thumbs up in chat, which many people now use it to end FB chats with).

Then, there are post which are more solemn, like deaths to which people also click on the ‘Like’ button sometimes to show that they are keeping the mourner in their thoughts — hardly to endorse the fact that someone is mourning a death.

The same way we collectively made the ‘star’ button a bookmarking tool, we can also put our own value into what the heart can mean.

I don’t necessarily agree with the change — I like things the way it used to be — but I’m sure that Twitter had their reasons for doing this. The way the heart is not now working for many people, perhaps the star wasn’t working very well for Twitter as well.

An article Mic Wright, from The Next Web, wrote in July has been making rounds again today because he suggested then that Twitter copy Slack’s ability to let people choose emojis to indicate how they felt about a post (thus, allowing the star or whatever icon exists to remain used for bookmarking).

While it’s not necessarily a bad idea, it reminds me of the fallout at rumours that Facebook were going to introduce the Dislike button (although, many people have noted many instances where a button like that would be useful). Too much work.

I think with Twitter, it is the simplicity of the platform that makes it easy to use and one of the most convenient ways for me to engage with people. Having too many icons or options will interfere with that.

I still don’t necessarily like the ‘heart’, but I’m hoping that users will once again wield the power they hold to shape the platform in ways they know best. And if this means that we have to ‘own’ the meaning of the ‘heart’ icon, then so be it.

> This article was first published in The Niki Cheong Fortnightly (which you can sign up for here).

11.10am GMT

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