Twitter Fans Speak Out Against the Heart

Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter. The company announced last week that the star icon would be replaced by a heart.

I don’t ♥ Twitter’s decision to abandon the ★.

If you know what the previous sentence refers to, you might be thinking “fav! fav! fav!” and wishing you could sprinkle this article in a constellation of celestial pixie dust.

If you don’t understand the heart-and-star reference, let me congratulate you on having a life that exists beyond the pixelated boundaries of an app on your phone.

Then let me explain why Twitter’s latest adjustment to a core function has roiled tweeters, and how it reflects, perhaps, an identity crisis for the company that blessed the world with the 140-character one-liner.

On Tuesday Twitter announced that beginning that day, users would find that its star icon — the tapping of which activated a function known as “favoriting” a tweet — would be replaced by a heart that would signify the “liking” of a tweet.

The response has been fast and furious, with thousands of tweets bemoaning what has thus far been seen mostly (mostly) as a boneheaded move, peppered with rebellious hashtags such as #hatetheheart, #bringbackthestar and #heartgate.

“Twitter was made for retweeting and FAVORITING tweets. NOT liking them. This isn’t Instagram or Facebook. #hatetheheart,” chirped one tweeter.

Another posted a screenshot of a star icon and remarked, “Yellow lives matter. #BringBackTheStar.”

The favorite function has been absolutely fundamental to the Twitter experience. There are only three ways for users to respond to a tweet, and favoriting is one of them (along with replying or retweeting). It has allowed users to bookmark the tweet to refer back to later, and has also been a way to quietly acknowledge that you’ve noticed a tweet, since the person who posted the tweet is notified that you have favorited it, but your followers are generally not.

The heart, though, is more charged than the star. Katherine Timpf, a reporter for National Review and a Fox News contributor who appears on “The Greg Gutfeld Show,” is among the many who objected. “I DO NOT GO ON TWITTER TO BE REMINDED THAT I AM CAPABLE OF HAVING FEELINGS,” she tweeted (emphatically), receiving more than 470 hearts.

“Twitter is the only place I can go that is removed from emotional attachments and now it’s ruined,” Ms. Timpf said when reached by phone. She added: “Why did you do this to us, Twitter? I want to know why. Not everything has to be flowers and sunshine.”

Twitter, the company, declined to comment on the whoop-de-do. A spokeswoman directed me instead to the blog post written on the company website by Akarshan Kumar, a product manager.

“We know that at times the star could be confusing, especially to newcomers,” Mr. Kumar wrote in introducing the feature. “You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.”

An animated GIF was created to further explore the heart’s function. “Yes!, congrats, LOL, adorbs, stay strong, hugs, wow, aww, high five,” it reads with each word flashing alongside a pulsating heart icon, and then: “Show how you feel without missing a beat.”

Ms. Timpf is an active user (16,000 tweets, and nearly 4,500 likes-née-favorites) with a significant following (north of 31,000). “I use Twitter approximately every moment I’m awake,” she said.

Along with relying on the favorite function as a bookmark, she used it to keep a record of some of the nasty and obnoxious comments her reporting, TV commentary and bons mots provoked.

“I only like about half of what I favorite,” she said, meaning “like” in the real-world way. “People will say outrageously offensive things. You shouldn’t have to make a judgment on a tweet and that’s what a heart is.”

The heart also scrambles another signal that users sometime rely on the star to convey: the “hate-favorite.” The hate-fav is used as a sarcastic endorsement, a symbolic “as if,” a stealth throwing of shade.

Just a few days into the era of hearts, Manish Vij, a technology entrepreneur, was already longing for the good old days. When someone Mr. Vij follows on Twitter posted an audio clip of a rap-song advertisement supporting the presidential candidacy of Ben Carson, Mr. Vij struggled with his diminished ability to express himself.

“I can’t hate-fave anymore. Damn hearts,” he tweeted in reply.

Unburdening his own heart hours later in an email, Mr. Vij wrote: “I use the hate-fave like the sarcastic retweet: to take something I loathe and make it funny. Turning it into a kindergarten heart is like replacing whisky with apple juice.”

Zack Smith, who runs the gaming website GamingRebellion, went on an out-and-out heart attack over the course of the week, tweeting his disdain repeatedly (“Ok @twitter, I am genuinely weirded out seeing a heart next to someone’s avatar when they “like” my tweet. What will my wife think???” and “Ok @twitter, if you wanted to make me feel like I’m using a dating app you have succeeded. #BringBackTheStar”). He also tweeted news-you-can-use: a breakdown of how to reconfigure Twitter on some desktop browsers to transform the heart into a beer icon, originally written and posted to Twitter by Robert A. McNees, a physics professor at Loyola University Chicago.

Reached by phone in Jensen Beach, Fla., Mr. Smith was circumspect but adamant.

“I understand why they did this,” he said. “They’re a publicly traded company, their growth has been flat and they’re trying to be like Facebook. But the heart makes me feel dirty. It’s just bizarre to me.”

Personally, I’m not sure why a heart icon instead of a star makes a social network more welcoming to new users. Twitter has always had specific appeal and often, people take to it with gusto or don’t take to it at all.

My biggest issue with the heart connects to the purpose that Twitter serves in my life. It’s a place of professional connection and conversation. Though I obviously love absolutely everything my boss tweets, for example, I don’t want to send him hearts. Thus, I’m probably going to engage less on the platform, which cannot be the kind of result that Twitter would favorite. I mean, like.

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