July 24, 2024

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X, formerly Twitter, now hides your ‘likes’ : NPR

4 min read
A phone displaying the X logo.

As of Wednesday, X users are no longer able to see which posts others have liked, with few exceptions.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images


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Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

X, the app formerly known as Twitter, is implementing yet another controversial change.

Starting this week, users won’t be able to see which posts others have liked — adding a new layer of anonymity to a key feature of the social media platform.

“Starting today, Likes are private for everyone,” X’s engineering team tweeted Wednesday. “Liking more posts will make your For you timeline better.”

That now means that users can see which posts they have liked, but others can’t.

The author of a post can still see who liked it, with their like count and other engagement metrics showing up under the notifications tab. Otherwise, no one can see who liked another person’s post.

The change was rolled out without much fanfare, though it didn’t come as a total surprise. The same engineering account had warned the previous day that it would be taking that step within the week “to better protect your privacy.”

Hiding likes was already an option available to X’s premium subscribers (who pay $8 a month or $84 a year), with the platform announcing back in September that they could choose to “keep spicy likes private by hiding your likes tab” (plus the eyes and pepper emojis).

Haofei Wang, X’s director of engineering, confirmed last month that that would soon become the default setting for all users.

“Public likes are incentivizing the wrong behavior,” he tweeted in mid-May. “For example, many people feel discouraged from liking content that might be ‘edgy’ in fear of retaliation from trolls, or to protect their public image. Soon you’ll be able to like without worrying who might see it.”

Liked tweets as a form of accountability — and potential embarrassment

Users’ likes were not broadcast across the app in the same way as their posts and reposts, but they were easy to find — and scroll through — by clicking on the “liked” tab on an account.

Their visibility has gotten public figures into trouble before.

In 2017, an account linked to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz liked a pornographic post from an account titled “Sexuall Posts,” causing a minor frenzy. He ultimately blamed a staffer’s “mistake.”

Last year, Kentucky State Sen. Jason Howell, also a Republican, faced questions about a slew of liked tweets by pornography-related accounts — dating back years — as he sponsored a bill that would mandate a complaint process for removing “obscene” materials from public schools. He said he had been the victim of a hack “or subject to spam,” WKYU reported.

Just this week, X users noticed that Motley Crue vocalist Vince Neil appeared to be liking his share of sexually explicit images, too. Several even joked after the change took effect that he was responsible for it — or at least a lucky beneficiary.

Last month, the platform changed its policies around “adult content,” saying in an update that “you may share consensually produced and distributed adult nudity or sexual behavior, provided it’s properly labeled and not prominently displayed.”

X owner Elon Musk has made a number of significant changes to the platform — from updating its name and logo to monetizing its verification system to reinstating previously banned accounts — since acquiring it in 2022, and characterized many of those moves as aimed at facilitating free speech.

But critics, including Twitters former safety chief, say those moves not only sow chaos for users, employees and advertisers, but also enable misinformation and hate speech to flourish on the platform — an especially timely concern given the number of elections and foreign conflicts currently underway.

Users aren’t necessarily welcoming the change with open arms

On Wednesday, Musk shared a screenshot of analytics showing an uptick in likes on the platform throughout the afternoon, as the change was implemented.

“Massive increase in likes after they were made private!” he wrote.

But users were quick to pile on in the comments, suggesting that the liked posts in question were pornographic, liked by bots or about the unpopularity of the change itself.

Critics say the change reflects — and exacerbates — X’s struggle to manage the spam and bots proliferating on the site.

“Hiding who likes a post is just one more step in making it more difficult to sift through the garbage,” Alex Kirshner wrote in Slate

Other reactions on the app were decidedly negative, with many users accusing the platform of trying to fix things that weren’t broken.

Some disappointedly joked that they wanted their followers to see what kind of weird stuff they were into, and many publicly mourned the ability to stalk their crushes through their likes.

And some had logistical questions about how it would work.

Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, responded to Wang’s tweet, asking what differentiates private likes from bookmarks. Before the site introduced that feature in 2018, users had to like a post before saving it for later — which could send the wrong message to journalists and others concerned about impartiality (hence the classic “likes do not represent views” disclaimers in many such bios).

“Like is visible between you and the author, the author will be notified, but not anyone else,” Wang replied. “Bookmark is only visible to you.”

X is not the only platform that has taken steps to minimize the value of the like button. Meta allows users to hide the likes on their Instagram and Threads posts, while TikTok lets users choose who can view their liked videos.


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