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Oct. 29, 2018, 1:51 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: twitter.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   October 29, 2018

There’s a lot to hate and a lot to love about Twitter. But is the heart-shaped “like” button on each tweet actually at risk in the quest for “incentivizing healthy conversation”?

The Telegraph reported Monday morning:

Twitter is planning to remove the ability to “like” tweets in a radical move that aims to improve the quality of debate on the social network.

Founder Jack Dorsey last week admitted at a Twitter event that he was not a fan of the heart-shaped button and that it would be getting rid of it “soon”.

In the aftermath of The Telegraph’s story, Twitter predictably united around its aghastness (see some #hottakes at the end of this) and Twitter’s PR tried to clear things up:

As the platform tries to rehab its amplifier-of-the-alt-right, cesspool-of-harassment image, many features of the site are under reconsideration (no, no edit button). Dorsey had told the Washington Post earlier this year that he was open to revamping the core elements of Twitter, including the like button and how the platform displays follower counts. “The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product,” Dorsey said at the time. “Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”

(Twitter also introduced a bookmark tool earlier this year that users could adopt instead of the place-saving like button. And it was only three short years ago that the Twitterverse freaked out about “favorites” becoming “likes,” and we seemed to make that transition just fine.)

The Telegraph points out that likes and reactions across social media platforms have created a parasitic loop for users craving attention, which feeds off of our attention on Instagram, Facebook (haha react) and yes, Twitter too — but it’s not really the like button that’s the problem here. (Kanye West — this is hopefully the only time I will ever refer to him in a Nieman Lab article — pointed out last month that Snapchat doesn’t emphasize “vanity metrics,” a.k.a. comments or likes. Snapchat, you may remember, is flailing a bit.) Removing the like button could force us Twitter users to actually use words to respond to each other in threads instead, where there is definitely no risk of unhealthy conversations at all, but I digress.

Twitter’s Q3 earnings, released last week, showed a decline in its monthly active users (which the company says is part of its fake account purge) but an increase in its daily active users. Advertising revenue is still growing, up 29 percent year over year. Dorsey’s remarks: “This quarter’s strong results prove we can prioritize the long-term health of Twitter while growing the number of people who participate in public conversation.” (Twitter has now been profitable for the past four quarters, remarkably enough.)

Don’t expect the like button to go quietly (if it even leaves), especially as Twitter emphasizes that discussions are in the early stages.

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