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Twitter’s New Heart Misses the Mark

Twitter just rolled out some tiny changes that have made a big impact.

On Tuesday Twitter officially swapped out its old star icon for a heart. The jargon changed, too — instead of “favoriting” a tweet from another user, you can now “like” it. Twitter’s reasoning behind the shift was practical:

“We want to make Twitter easier and more rewarding to use, and we know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers. You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.”

This is a fair point, but it ultimately ignores the fact that the heart is a universal symbol for love. In fact, it’s most commonly used as a pictorial replacement for the word love — all those “I ♥ NY” shirts and coffee mugs aren’t merely expressing a mild approval for New York City. No, a heart means you’re head-over-heels.


People might like a lot of things, Twitter, but they don’t love everything.

Using an icon for love and calling it a like feels a little disconcerting. Moreover, it feels a little too familiar. Hearts look like Instagram. Likes sound like, well, Facebook. Why is Twitter trying to blend in with other platforms instead of setting itself apart from them?

Love on the rocks

Twitter has indicated that heart icon tested well among people who had never used Twitter before. And since Twitter wants to attract new users, the switch seems like a no-brainer, right? But testing outsiders who are more accustomed to the concept of “likes” has no bearing at all on current users who are accustomed to the concept of “favorites.”

Before, pressing the star icon on a tweet could act as a like, as a bookmark to save a link for later, as a way to cast a bit of shade (the so-called “hate-fave”), or as simply a way to acknowledge another user without having to engage in further conversation.

While the heart icon can functionally do these same things, many users attach a deeper meaning to it that they didn’t attach to the star. Hearting a tweet feels a bit like saying “I love you” on the second date: too much and too soon. Hearting feels like an endorsement; a stamp of approval. Hearting implies: I agree with you.

Twitter argues that a “heart […] is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. A heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people.” But professionals who use the platform aren’t exactly looking to convey emotions so much as look professional. Where does the universal symbol for love leave them?

Looking for love in all the wrong places

The bottom line is that exchanging a star for a heart merely rephrases the question instead of answering it. And the question is: how to give Twitter users a way to react to tweets that feels intuitive?

Facebook has tried to answer the same question in its own way by developing a new set of emoji called Reactions. The emoji, currently in testing and not yet fully live, represent the emotions Like, Love, Haha, Yay, Wow, Sad, and Angry.


Of course, offering an array of reactions causes another set of problems entirely — potential abuse of the “angry” emoji, anyone? — but it’s an interesting solution to the limitations of the “like” button. And more importantly, it enables users to engage more fully with posts than ever before. Imagine the implications for tracking metrics and sentiment!

More love to go around

Facebook may be in the process of expanding their reactions, but for now Twitter’s sticking with just the one. And the old star icon may be preferred by their user base, but Twitter can’t grow by catering to its base. They’re betting that the heart icon will soon have users both new and old speaking the universal language of love.

Me, I’m skeptical. But only time will tell if Twitter is right or if the skeptics are.

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