After a spate of hate-fueled shootings in recent days, as well as the arrest of the pipe bomber targeting prominent liberals, social platforms find themselves once again under scrutiny for the part they play — inadvertently or not — in helping foment the spread of a certain kind of anger — the kind of anger that spills over into violence.
Indeed, Twitter appeared to be one of the platforms of choice for the alleged pipe bomber, whose account has since been suspended but who used it to spread angry rhetoric and whose threatening tweets forced Twitter to issue an apology to a former congressional press secretary who he’d harassed. These are certainly complex issues that defy easy, one-size-fits-all solutions. Which is one reason it’s strange to learn that, according to a report that’s been zipping around Twitter today, the social network, in an effort to improve the quality of debate on its platform, is thinking about killing off the ‘like’ button.
As reported by The Telegraph, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told employees at an in-house event last week that he’s “not a fan of the heart-shaped button” and that Twitter would be getting rid of it “soon.”
The thinking appears to be that the most onerous tweeters and their noxious tweets may be starved of oxygen, as it were, by turning off the spigot of ‘likes,’ so they won’t know how much of an audience they have or don’t have. Which, when you think about it, begs the question — why not just remove the ability to post tweets altogether, if hate-fueled tweets are so numerous and so hard to kill, whack-a-mole style? Just turn them off. Problem solved. Presto.
In all seriousness, as a reminder — the ‘like’ button on Twitter came about as a sort of an uncoupling of the old star-shaped ‘favorites’ button, which was a kind of ‘like’ but also bookmarked the tweet you were favoriting so you could check it out later. Now, of course, there’s a like button, but also a separate save-for-later button.
As The Telegraph’s report notes: “Similar buttons to ‘like’ or show appreciation of people’s status updates, pictures and videos have become a central function of every popular social media service” ever since Facebook introduced the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up icon. Twitter, for its part, has been watching the chatter about this possible move today and decided to issue a company statement about it, via tweet:
As we've been saying for a while, we are rethinking everything about the service to ensure we are incentivizing healthy conversation, that includes the like button. We are in the early stages of the work and have no plans to share right now. https://t.co/k5uPe5j4CW
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) October 29, 2018
All of this comes against the backdrop of Twitter working to make the service a home for more “healthy” conversations, to use a word Twitter execs come back to often, which has included dramatic steps like banning controversial users like Alex Jones, among other things.
Bottom line: We can think of a lot more that needs to be done to improve the Twitter experience way before ever getting to a place where tweaking the ‘like’ button somehow finds itself high up on the to-do list.