Twitter caused mass pandemonium last week when it made a significant change to the user experience.
In response, the stalwart Twitter mob grabbed their Internet torches and pitchforks intent on bringing down one of the largest social media platforms.
How did Twitter make so many Tweeters so angry?
They ditched the longtime icon for “favoriting” a tweet, the gold star, and replaced it with a new icon, a red heart.
“We are changing our star icon for favorites to a heart and we’ll be calling them likes,” Twitter posted in an announcement Tuesday.
Its reason for the change might seem trivial.
“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,” Twitter said. “You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.”
That’s it. They swapped the star for a heart, setting off a storm of contemptuous tweets from longtime users.
For the majority of Twitter’s more than 300 million active users, the change was met with utter indifference. In fact, my wife, a solid “check-my-Twitter-feed-once-a-day” user reacted with a “huh?” to news of the change.
She couldn’t have cared less.
Heart icons on social media are nothing new. Popular platforms such as Instagram, Periscope and Vine have been using hearts as a seal of approval since their inception.
So why haven’t all Tweeters fallen in love with the heart? After all, many of these people are cross-platform users, meaning they use other services compatible with Twitter’s interface, including Instagram and Vine.
The answer to that question might reside in the definitions we’ve developed for the symbols for stars and hearts. To better understand this visceral reaction, we need to look back to grade school.
When I did something exceptional in Ms. Valentine’s third-grade class, I usually received a gold star sticker on my forehead. I was Ms. Valentine’s favorite pupil, at least on that day.
She never used hearts.
Hearts mean something more to third-graders. They take on an entirely different definition when we get that first note from an admirer in school.
Hearts equal love. Stars equal liking something.
But according to Twitter, “The heart ... 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.”
To separate themselves from the heart icons on other platforms, Twitter added some emphasis to the new heart. When users select the new Twitter heart, a brief animation suggests the heart is bursting, further signifying a Tweeter’s approval.
Like other changes we’ve been forced to adopt on other platforms over the years (Facebook, anyone?), there’s little chance Twitter will react to the negative reactions of their longtime users.
In the minds of most users, the star is now a distant memory, and only time will mend the hearts of scorned Tweeters.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.