Thursday, November 5, 2015

“Like” vs. “Favorite”: Why The Public’s Response to a Change in Decorum Matters

In the same way that it is entirely possible to ruin an entire presidential campaign with a single grunt, it also appears that it is entirely possible for a social media site to rip apart the hearts of millions of users with a single update. Twitter's most recent change to their website that has over 300 million users is the transition from "favorites" and "stars" of tweets and their replacement with "likes" and "hearts".


The Twitterverse is shocked. There is outrage, there is frustration, there is madness ensuing. People are going wild, for the sake of a seemingly minute aesthetic revision. However, there is a lot more there than expected, and a whole lot of it has to do with the violation of the expectations developed out of the site’s decorum. While normally reserved for a rhetor presenting for a live audience, decorum is established by the creators of the site based on their aesthetic and functional choices for its design. Decorum is defined as an agreeable ethos matching the audience’s expectations for a leader’s tone, appearance, or manners; in the new age of technology and social media, it can be applied to the expectations of the audience of users for the way that the site works, how it looks, and what they can do on it. This piece of Twitter is decorous because it persuades individuals to make use of it in specific lights and not others.

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Although there may not be a specific rhetor in the case of the Twitter “like”, its presentation is still significant, and this is where the problem has arisen on Twitter. The redefinition of one of the major tools--the “favorite”--that has been in existence since its 2006 launch date is currently violating the decorum of the site itself, and the way that the audience is behaving makes this picture perfect.

The intent of those majorly responsible for the change is clear, and even can arguably understandable: as Akarshan Kumar, a manager in the production of the site, notes, "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 is...  a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones." However, one of the understandings of decorum and utilizing it is that it does not always match perfectly with the intent of the rhetor, but rather is dependent on the context and cues of the audience or, in this case, users. The expectation placed upon the “Favorite” function, and Twitter itself, is to allow users to denote interest in certain Tweets without necessarily sharing them with their own followers. According to user and writer Carly Newton, the perceived meaning of the button has changed: “The newest mode of engagement on Twitter is a bit less versatile, a bit less powerful, a bit more compressed.” The connotation of a “like” is very different from that of a “favorite”-- many users who utilize the star to bookmark serious articles and posts may now feel uncomfortable in thinking of “liking” them.

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Finally, users have noted the introduction of the idea of remix in the new update, and aren’t exactly pleased with it. Other social media sites, like Facebook and Instagram, have made use of the “like” since their early days, without a nod to its significance. While there are merits to utilizing remix in many contexts, to borrowing ideas and transforming them to have greater significance and power, the tweeting world does not seem to be accepting the change as having congruity, a necessary aspect of the art. The violation of the expectations out of the normal decorum of the site, and the influence of the language of the Internet, is limiting the capacity for success of the new “like” feature. The future is a mystery, and users will likely begin to become more comfortable with the change, out of obligation: if they want to continue tweeting the way they have known for so long, they must necessarily accept it. However, the present stage of explosive reactions is a clear depiction of the influence of decorum on the acceptance of a message by an audience. Now it’s up to the loyal users who are willing to help Twitter in their slight--but significant--redefinition of what they are.

Bowerman, Mary. "Twitter Makes 'heart' Icon the New 'like' Button." USA Today. 3 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
Newton, Casey. "Twitter Officially Kills off Favorites and Replaces Them with Likes." The Verge. 3 Nov. 2015. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
Howard, Alexander. "Why Twitter's New 'Like' Button Is A Big Deal." The Huffington Post 3 Nov. 2015, HuffPost Tech sec. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

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