This morning, Twitter users woke up to a surprise. In the place of the small star icon positioned below each tweet, clicked to "favorite", in Twitter parlance, was a heart. Clicking this heart produces an animated technicolor explosion, shifting through multiple colors before landing on a fire engine red.  

Twitter announced the change like this: 

The company listed comprehension as one of the main reasons for the change, citing the difficulty new users had understanding the "favorite" button, and the universality of a heart's meaning.

The change may be an attempt to close the gap between Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. All these platforms besides Twitter already had a "like" function, while Instagram and Tumblr both use heart icons to perform it.

No one ever likes change on the internet, but Twitter users seemed particularly peeved at having their stars replaced by hearts while "likes" subsumed "favorites."

"Favorites" first appeared in 2011. Clicking the star allowed users to save a tweet for later (they could find it in their "Favorited Tweets" section) in addition to expressing approval or appreciation. 

Some of the negative reaction to the change can be explained by a 2011 Buzzfeed article from tech writer John Herrman, who described the difference between Twitter's subtle "favorites" and Facebook's more public "likes." According to Herrman, the appeal of "favorites" was their ability to convey different meanings depending on the context, acting like almost a secret code for frequent Twitter users. Herrman warned that the popularizing power of a "like" could harm the very thing a user was trying to appreciate.

Unlike Twitter’s winking “atta girl” favorites, Facebook likes imply spread and advertisement. To like is to rebroadcast, which changes—maybe taints?—the things you like.

Psychologists and other academics we spoke to were also wary of the change, though their predictions for its consequences differed. 


Max Wilson

Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham. Co-author of "More than Liking and Bookmarking? Towards Understanding Twitter Favouriting Behaviour," from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

The "favorite" button used to imply that a tweet was one of our favorites—something that represents us somehow or is worth keeping. But David Elsweiler and Florian Meier, at Regensburg, and I found that the favorite button was being used for more than 20 different reasons. Subtleties aside, however, we primarily saw people using it as a non-textual response mechanism—like saying "cool" but without having to send a whole tweet to say "cool." This means that the new like-with-a-heart button is much closer to the meaning of how most people ended up using the favorite button. I think we'll see people use it more now that it's a "response" button rather than a declaration that a tweet is somehow worth putting in our favorites list.


David Elsweiler

Chair for Information Science, University of Regensburg

There is a lot of evidence that quite subtle changes to user interfaces can have dramatic effects on how the interfaces are used. For example, the size of a search box or the text that accompanies it can considerably influence the queries that people submit. When my PhD student Florian Meier investigated the different reasons Twitter users had when clicking the star icon, he uncovered really diverse motivations. It could be that for some users these patterns are quite stable and their usage will remain constant, whereas for others it might lead to biases. Perhaps newer users might gravitate towards more personal motivations, such as liking or bookmarking rather than more social motivations that people previously reported (e.g. unwritten communication, showing support for another user etc.). However, to really understand what this change means requires further study.


Bonnie Stewart  

Educator, social media researcher, and Coordinator of Adult Teaching, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada

As I tweeted this morning, the heart makes me uncomfortable. Not just because it forecloses complexity and ambiguity as a communications signal but because I had to TRAIN myself to STOP using hearts in all my communications when I was 12, and going back to it literally brings me back to a visual form that is jarring because it is for me ever-associated with feminized adolescence. 

The whole gendered usage of hearts seems to have escaped Twitter. So does the fact that people fave (with stars) in complex ways - they are bookmarks, they are likes, they are nods of the head. But they are not indicators of love. I feel very weird loving tweets by random men I've only just started a conversation with.

Not that there's anything wrong with feminine. But women - and men, in their own ways - are well-aware of how feminized visual signals get read by others, and in an identity space like Twitter, I suspect that will really minimize usage. Or at least until we all get used to it.


Caitlin B. Petre

Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Sociology, New York University, formerly Information
Society Project at Yale Law School; research fellow at Columbia J-School's Tow Center

My impression is that often people (myself included) used the favorite star as a kind of bookmark—for instance, as a way to flag a tweet that linked to an article so that you easily come back and find it later. While the term "favorite" obviously has a positive valence, the star is a relatively neutral icon in terms of what it communicates. I'd predict that people will be more hesitant to use the heart-shaped "like" button when they simply want to bookmark something because it implies the liker's endorsement or approval more strongly than the star did. In a similar vein, there seems to be a sizable group that uses twitter primarily as a professional, rather than personal, social media tool. I don't know for sure, but I would hypothesize that a greater proportion of Twitter users keep their posts completely public compared to Instagram or Facebook users. However, the switch to the heart button makes Twitter seem more like FB and Instagram (where we "like" things and use a heart icon, respectively). It will be interesting to see if, over time, this starts to shift the way people think about how to use Twitter as a platform.


Kathleen M. Cumiskey 

Associate Professor, Psychology, College of Staten Island CUNY. Co-editor  with Larissa Hjorth, Mobile Media Practices, Presence and Politics: The Challenges of Being Seamlessly Mobile (Routledge)

The Twitter-verse is expansive and complicated. The favorite star did not have any particular valence and in some ways it felt personal, just for you. The heart is pushing us to feel some sort of way, to endorse what we read on Twitter. So much of what fascinates us on Twitter (I.e. Zola's story) may be something we are drawn to and curious about but may not be something we want to endorse with a heart.  The heart does change everything. It forces us to take a stand, to feign an embrace and perhaps to align affection with Twitter moments that may make us feel awkward or disingenuous. Twitter/life already has enough of those moments.