The airwaves and blog sites are alive with the rumour that Twitter is about to abandon the ‘like’ button with a view to improving dialogue and conversation on the platform.
Twitter were quick to deny it was a decision.
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. We are in the early stages of the work and have no plans to share right now. https://t.co/k5uPe5j4CW
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) October 29, 2018
The original button was ‘favourite’ (represented by a star) rather than ‘like’. Twitter changed this in 2015 to bring it in line with the Periscope application which had a heart icon, but also to follow in the footsteps of Facebook – ‘like’ being the ubiquitous social media term for that action. Facebook expanded the like button to incorporate a series of different emoji reactions (and there’s no doubt that data around the sentiment of these buttons is gathered by Facebook for some future purpose).
But removing the like button on Twitter could have a series of unintended consequences, because the like button has many uses its original inventors could not have imagined.
Retweets have a very important cultural role in social media parlance. A retweet can suggest significant approval. It can bestow status on the original poster (OP). Retweets provide coverage and memetic contagion. Retweets form movements that show feeling amongst an audience. Retweets allow the reader or viewer to demonstrate their own value in an information network, by being the first, by being their own influencers. I often ask for retweets when I need something amplifying. But not everyone wants to retweet and not everything needs retweeting.
The ‘like’ has a subtler role. Likes are used by tweets and viewers to allow the OP to know their contribution is acknowledged (“I’ve seen it”). Likes are used to support the OP when the more vociferous retweet might be in inappropriate or difficult for the viewer to do – they are a back channel for a lighter touch approval where more overt retweeting could be a problem for the reader. Readers and viewers sometimes use them to ‘save’ a tweet for later exploration (although Twitter’s bookmarking should remove the need for that – old habits die hard). The like button can be used to say that the conversation has reached an end – the ‘like’ is the period to a dialogue. The like button is also an indicator of engagement for future interaction – a reader who likes work regularly can be indicating that they would like the OP to follow them, especially when used in union with more engaged dialogues.
To lose such an important, yet subtle tool at this stage in the life of the platform doesn’t seem to make sense. Unless something far superior is coming to replace it.