If I heart you and it makes you uncomfortable, I can explain…

Yesterday, Twitter switched out the star “fave” button for the heart “like” button. As Twitter explained on their blog:

We are changing our star icon for favorites to a heart and we’ll be calling them likes. 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. The heart, in contrast, is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people. And in our tests, we found that people loved it.

Wow. Twitter and I do not know the same people, because Academic Twitter is not happy. In stark contrast to Twitter’s perky statement, Academic Twitter does not feel like the heart is “more expressive…convey[ing] a range of emotions,” but rather the opposite. The people I know (overwhelmingly) argue that it pigeon-holes our use of the button in ways the star never did. Here are some of the most common anti-heart arguments I’ve seen on Academic Twitter (thus far):

  • Faves as saves: Many academics use the star-faves as a saving mechanism for tweeted links/concepts they want to revisit later, like putting a star in the margin of a book. It doesn’t imply “like” because the academic hasn’t read it yet. How do they know they’re going to like it?
  • Faves as a neutral acknowledgement:  Twitter is a constantly flowing stream of information.  People who tweet a lot (and Academic Twitter tweets  A LOT) can sometimes miss a tweet or two, even if they are flagged by a mention.  Many academics use the star-fave button as if to say “I see you” or “I read you” so that the other person knows the message was received. It is a nifty shortcut to endless acknowledgement tweets, easily used with acquaintances, business partners, bosses etc. You know, those people you wouldn’t normally HEART.
  • Faves as a professional action: Which brings me to the fact that Academic Twitter consists of professionals using Twitter for professional and pedagogical reasons. Students and Professors. Professors and Students.  You can gold star a student, but can you heart a student? Can you heart you boss?  Even the young self-identified “Twitter newbie” with whom I was tweeting this morning said (rather emphatically) that they could not see themselves hearting a boss. Ever.
  • Faves as a harassment-free zone: But the argument that hearts are less profession-friendly than stars goes beyond the workplace, to a place of systemic and societal power and privilege. For some people, the assumption that social media (including Twitter), flattens the power hierarchy is just plain wrong. Women, people of color, individuals who identify as LGBTQ, and other people who identify as marginalized often find social media to be a dangerous space for harassment.  A heart has more built-in power than a star. A heart may be more “expressive,” but expressiveness may not be welcome, particularly by people who are being stalked, particularly in a sexual context.  Academic Twitter tends to think about these things a lot. It’s one reason I heart Academic Twitter
  • Faves as honest representations of how we feel. Let us be honest. Smart, thoughtful, intentional people don’t love everything.  They don’t even like everything.  They tend to be precise in their language.  Sometimes they just want to attend to something.  Sometimes they want to dwell in uncomfortable places because they are almost guaranteed learning zones. When you force academics to “like” it, it cheapens what that means to them.  What it means to us.
  •  Ultimately, I think it comes down to:


For me as a person who speaks for no other…I like the heart.

I do.

First, I stopped faving to save a long time ago.  I think it was Maha Bali who said that faves were ‘a place where documents go to die’ or something similar. I could be wrong. But the point is that I never go back and read what I fave, so I don’t do it anymore.

Also, I heart what I heart. I don’t have that many followers (about 1100 right now) and I don’t follow that many people (about 1000) and if I were to analyze my mention and faving patterns, I think I would find that I retweet (not fave) articles that I think are worth reading, I follow people who say interesting things, and I mention and fave with a limited group of people.  These people, these mentions and faves, are people for whom I care and respect.  When I mention and fave their tweets, it comes from a place of gratitude.  I am grateful, and I can get behind that sentiment with a heart.

Furthermore, I dropped the pretense of “professional distance” a long time ago. Maybe I never had it, or maybe it just doesn’t work for me or maybe I’m not the best person to have in your office.  I have problems working for, with, or around people with whom I can’t interact as people, people with bodies and families and feelings and quirks.

However, I know that my position on bodies and families and feelings can be a problem.  Somehow in this world – in professional settings, in academia – people have become uncomfortable with all those things. Some might say that freely expressing affection is a form of privilege. Yes, I think that’s sad and a little troublesome, but I also know that care is not true care if it’s not welcome.

So here’s the deal. Like the rest of Academic Twitter (or so it seems), I will be careful in my hearting, because it (1) seems to make other people uncomfortable; (2) it really does limit use and create a sense of directionality that was not present previously and (3) it might convey a sense of privilege.

However, I will not be personally upset about the heart, because it is providing me with the opportunity to tell you all that I think you’re great, and I really wish we had more opportunities to do that in this world, regardless of the context.




14 Comments Add yours

  1. Kate Bowles says:

    I’m still really stuck on something, and I think it comes from being closely involved both in death penalty activism and in palliative care blogging on Twitter. There’s stuff there I don’t necessarily want to retweet into my whole timeline (because most of the people who follow me really don’t do so for death and dying updates), and there are activists working in those spaces operating with great courage in difficult circumstances who don’t need their timelines clogged up with “Thank you for doing this” posts. I felt comfortable using a star for those — I’m not sure why — but when I looked at the official Twitter animation of all the sentiments the heart is meant to convey, I thought: nope, this is not what I do. Not at all.

    When it comes to professional relationships I think to myself: would I sign an email to this person with a heart? And the answer is, honestly, no, because it doesn’t feel like this is a boundary for me to choose to cross. There’s something really important about boundaries being reciprocal. I don’t get to decide on behalf of my students that it’s OK with them that I heart them. That just feels wrong to me.

    I’m also trying to formulate some thoughts about the cultural step here. Is this an American thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Gogia says:

      I think everything you have written is spot on. First, the heart limits in the same way I feel that the “thumbs up” sign limits. If someone is breaking the news that they have cancer, I do not – will not — give that a thumbs up. Somehow the star works (if just to say “I hear you” long enough to cover it until I can craft a real response).

      Second, you do not want to “cross the boundary” from professional to personal. I think this is extremely common. I have problems with it – I have made it one of my missions to problematize this boundary or at least challenge it — but it is there and I believe your concerns to be entirely legitimate.

      There is something really important about boundaries being reciprocal. Agreed. But if someone doesn’t take the risk to cross them, how do we ever cross them? Someone always take the first step…or they don’t. I’ve found this to be true in friendship. Also, I’m not sure that “care” as symbolized by a heart HAS to mean more than just care. Care. Not love. Not necessarily even like. Just genuine interest, engagement, and desire to act.

      I know plenty of Americans who share your concerns. I honestly don’t know why so many people have gotten numb to the heart and the thumbs up and so forth. Thanks for this thoughtful response. I think we are all going to be struggling with this for a while – for all kinds of reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kate Bowles says:

    On the boundary crossing, I feel that because so many boundaries are about power differentials, perhaps I choose to let the other person make that step. American students who come to Australia are often quite startled that Australian students call us all by our first names. There’s no prof this or prof that. And I’m completely comfortable with this — it’s my name, after all. If a student hearted something I put on Twitter I wouldn’t be the slightest bit offended. But I wouldn’t use it the other way because — and this is I think the huge misstep Twitter has taken — the heart isn’t a universal signal. My students are really diverse, and I truly don’t know what this gesture would signal to them, or whether they’d feel comfortable with it. That’s not for me to judge.

    Universality is most often used as a claim by the powerful, and it’s almost always a cover for advancing an agenda that isn’t universal at all. This isn’t to say that it’s deliberate or manipulative; sometimes it’s just really, really naive about others.

    So when I saw this claim in the Twitter announcement, I winced.

    I really appreciate this blog, thank you so much for writing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Gogia says:

      No, I completely agree with you, Kate. 100% agree. It’s not universal AT ALL. It happens to align with my current use, but that doesn’t mean my use won’t change next week (it probably will :)). I think it is a horrible misstep, but one that aligns with the primary narrative on social media – the one that suggests that everyone is happy and everything is awesome, etc etc. However, I think it’s a reactionary move, given the new wave of “social media isn’t real” that we are starting to see…I really hope that, eventually, we can have a spectrum of responses (make our own, possibly?) because even the star wasn’t perfect – it was just better :).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. francesbell says:

    Fascinating! So Twitter changed the symbol and the label and some of us are irked. I wondered if Twitter changes are part of monetisation strategy. I suspect that the joy I have had from Twitter will continue to fade until I eventually leave.
    As I noticed the change gradually creep across the different apps I use, it occurred to me that the data remained constant. That binary field with a 1 or 0 used to be favourite and had one set of meanings when collected now has a different set of meanings. So will researchers code pre Nov 2015 faves and post Nov 2015 likes. And that shape-shifting is a feature of social media as the interface and streams are tweaked to maximise the economic value of our contributions. Tweeters reactions are important only inasmuch as they impact that economic value.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Hi Frances 😊. Maha Bali and I were talking about motivation behind the move and I came up with research-driven interests (they want to universalize their comment button across their platforms for better research) or they want to drive our actions. This latter motivation speaks to the “everything is awesome” narrative that social media seems to support, maybe as a way to keep us coming back (even if research shows it makes us more unhappy and depressed…but smiling for the selfie). Either way, I’m skeptical. But as long as Twitter is my way of waving to people like you across the pond (and down the hallway…I don’t get out much) I’ll be there. When my friends move, I will have no reason to be there anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks so much, Laura — and thanks for enlightening comments, Kate and Frances. I’ve been alternately engaging and ignoring the tweetstorm around this change. Last night’s conversation was wonderful — sharing with so many of the people who make Twitter, well ‘Twitter’, for me. When I saw the tweet from the Twitter product manager acknowledging the work of his team in designing and implementing The Heart , I clicked on the profiles of some of those he mentioned, wondering who might have been involved when this change was designed, tested, discussed, agreed. I saw lots of engineers and marketing professionals. Hence my response https://twitter.com/catherinecronin/status/661912255815163904. The change from a star to a heart ignores cultural specificity, ignores power differences between individuals, ignores how race and gender and all kinds of difference operate — and not just online. It feels like an insulting two fingers (note: culturally-specific reference) to the call to “check your privilege”. Calling out racism? Calling out sexism? Calling out online shaming? Calling out institutional abuses? None of the heart-interpretations (that I can imagine, anyway) cover that. So, nuanced debate loses. And perhaps that’s the idea. This was powerfully called out by @jadedid and others on Twitter.

    This is the loss that I have reacted to, and that you capture here so well. Reducing complexity, collapsing and impoverishing language, turning down the volume on debate and protest — it feels like this matters to many of us. But as Frances reminds us: “tweeters reactions are important only inasmuch as they impact [that] economic value”. There’s no doubt a new set of practices will emerge around ‘hearting’ tweets, as they did with starring. Tools and technology are socially shaped after all. All I know is that it feels less and less like *this* kind of social media is a place I want to be. So, yeah, I will use Twitter differently but I’m hanging in, here in the spaces we have appropriated for our conversations, our work. See you there 🙂 And thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Laura Gogia says:

      So elegantly and powerfully stated that there’s nothing more for me to add. Thank you back.


      1. Thanks Laura. I’m grateful to you and Maha for opening the space for discussion, in multiple ways 🙂


  5. francesbell says:

    Just smiling as I noticed that Catherine had star-liked my comment so now I have star-liked yours:) I digress!
    I would be very surprised if the main motivation wasn’t about maximising information that can sell advertising services (when and how to advertise or not) as Twitter needs to have a viable business model. So whether or not Tweeters see themselves as a brand, it’s the relationship with brands that will be of interest http://seekingalpha.com/article/3605216-twitter-brings-relevance-and-viability-to-analytics-with-brand-hub . We are approaching the arrival of the Christmas ad and the pattern of tweeting as the John Lewis ad is launched at 8 a.m. tomorrow will be of great interest at John Lewis HQ as this is the season that puts them in profit. So they’ll be tracking the activity across TV, youtube, Facebook, Twitter and paying for the privilege no doubt. There is a poor man called John Lewis in Blacksburg, Virginia who must be bracing himself too http://www.thedrum.com/news/2013/11/10/us-man-mistaken-retailer-john-lewis-twitter-responds-deluge-tweets-hilarious-fashion
    Of course I won’t be able to resist tweeting the advert myself – Monty the Penguin was my favourite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do love my stars, Frances 😉 And I think you are right re: the money trail. Whenever we’re unclear about corporate motivations, we must just follow the money. Likes = $$$. So there we are.

      But thanks for sharing Monty… and I’ll look out for the new JL advert tomorrow 🙂


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