In a bit of bad social media rhinoplasty, Twitter recently changed its “favorite” Tweet feature to “like” and traded its stars for tiny hearts reminiscent of the ones I used to dot my lowercase i’s with in junior high. It doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface—after all, we’ve been liking things on Facebook since 2009, which is practically the Mesozoic era in Internet geology terms—but the Facebook liking feels a lot less threatening than this.
On Facebook, giving someone’s status update, cat video, or engagement announcement a cartoon thumbs-up has always felt impersonal enough to do liberally. Facebook likes are the the WiFi passwords we never thought twice about giving out. They’re the lowest common denominator of social media acknowledgement. We all know that deep down liking something is about as sincere as writing “Best Wishes!” in a retirement card for someone you don’t know at the office, and we’re all on board with it. The Facebook like masks sarcasm, apathy, and even malevolence in a way that up-voting and +1ing never has, but this Twitter change treads into unchartered territory of Internet declarations of fondness that I’m not sure I’m fully comfortable with.
The use of hearts to show how many users like something isn’t a new concept—it’s been a feature on Instagram from the beginning—but I think we can all agree Instagram is a place for low-key flirting and subtle idolatry. We’re all dilettantes on Instagram, and double-tapping someone’s photo never feels that weird because whether you’re looking at a bona fide thirst trap or a gorgeous sunset snap, it’s all amateur photography at the end of the day. Clicking that heart is the social media equivalent of standing in front of a painting at an art museum and contemplatively rubbing your chin.
All complaints about social media aside, some platforms want too much emotional commitment from their users. It seems like Twitter is headed in this direction, but no platform is guiltier of being clingy than LinkedIn. Study of Social Media Semantics should be a college course, because some developers clearly don’t get it. See, when you’re rummaging through someone’s feed dating back to April 2011 or trying to figure out when they graduated college, you don’t want to feel weirder about it than you already do. LinkedIn completely subverts the concept of social media emotional stability with one word: Connect.
I used to love the word “connect” when I was kid (without it, I may have never learned how to properly spell Connect-i-cut), but my fear of ~CoNnEcTiNg~ began when I joined LinkedIn. Maybe it’s a millennial thing, maybe it’s a fear of misguided Internet intimacy, but I would rather connect 1000 numbered dots than send a request to “connect” with someone on LinkedIn. I embrace networking and engaging with my peers, but if you ask me, “connect” is a very intimate word not far behind chemistry and chocolate lava cake. Despite using it in emails alongside the equally problematic “touch base” and “circle back,” I have never been been comfortable using “connect” in a professional context. It makes me feel my entire office/network/industry is one big Christmas paper chain, and I’m sidling up to some random person and asking if they’re cool with me wrapping my construction paper self around them to continue the link. But I digress. Features that may seem subtle on social media to one person are creepy and wrought with weird connotations to someone else.
That brings me to Twitter: Why must you strip me of my beloved stars and favorites? Declaring that, “This Tweet is included among my many favorites,” has a much different vibe than, “I like this.” Think of it this way. Before everything changed, when you favorited something it was like you were a fairy tapping that Tweet with your magic wand and giving it the blessing of a little gold star. Now when you like a Tweet, it looks like you’re giving it a Valentine and taking all 140 characters of it to your secret basement dungeon to keep in your private collection forever.
Are we really ready for people to know that we actually–gulp– like their Tweets? I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that level of commitment. What are we, Twitter: gold star or heart status?