X Should Show ‘Likes’, Not Hide Them


Elon Musk’s X is set to make “likes” private on the social network, a change that could confuse users about the difference between something they’ve favorited and something they’ve bookmarked. According to new posts by company employees, the decision to hide likes is intended to incentivize engagement by allowing people to favorite content that seems “edgy” while protecting their public image.

It’s uncertain if this is the best solution to the problems X aims to address, such as providing more signals for its algorithm to better personalize content based on users’ interests.

The change seems somewhat unnecessary since X, formerly Twitter, already has a private way to save posts: bookmarks. While X’s bookmarks are intended for collecting posts or threads users may want to refer back to or read later, they also served as a private alternative to the “like.”

Adding to the confusion, users will still be able to see who liked their posts and the like count for all posts and replies. In essence, the private “like” is only semi-private, as the poster can see the likes and potentially expose them. If X’s goal is to encourage “edgy” engagement, people might still hesitate to “like” such content because the system isn’t entirely private.

Instead, they might continue to use X’s bookmarks or even external link-saving tools to save posts they don’t want to risk exposing.

According to X employees, users will no longer be able to see the likes on other people’s posts nor browse someone’s likes through their profile tab. This change might reduce snooping but also removes a useful discovery feature.

For instance, new X users might browse others’ likes to find interesting content. Exploring a person’s profile to decide whether to follow them could also involve looking at their likes to understand the kind of content they usually engage with.

The real issue with likes is that the feature shifted the meaning of what used to be a bookmarking function. Before it was rebranded from a star to a heart icon, it served more as a “favorite” rather than a signal of support. Users could favorite anything without suggesting they enjoyed or agreed with the content.

Rather, it could be documenting something — like a politician’s statement one disagreed with, a post for further research, or posts to later build a collection in Moments (RIP). The star icon provided plausible deniability, unlike the heart icon.

When Twitter switched from stars to hearts, users were outraged. They understood that hearts conveyed a different meaning, impacting their social network usage.

Truth Voices noted that the ‘Like’ was limiting in expression compared to the Favorite function, which could mean a “thank you, a handshake, a tip of the hat, or even a Robert De Niro stare down.” The shift from stars to hearts didn’t solve Twitter’s larger issues of user base growth and engagement, resulting in flat growth quarters.

Twitter later introduced Bookmarks to bring back a way to save content privately, including posts users didn’t necessarily agree with but wanted to reference later.

Now, X’s new movement on the “like” functionality is causing disappointment among users. On X, people suggest alternatives, like making likes private as an option, not a default, or allowing anonymous likes through a long-press on the heart icon. Others warn that making likes private could enable manipulation by creators using bot armies to boost content and generate revenue.

Another potential solution is one mentioned by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. While there may be disagreements with his current views — that Nostr is the future of social or that Bluesky is a censorship platform — he makes a valid point in the likes vs. stars debate.

Dorsey posted on X: “‘like’/❤️ was originally a ⭐️. we should have never moved away from that.”

His post has garnered over 700 likes and many replies agreeing with him.

If X’s goal isn’t to add more privacy around user engagement functions but rather to enhance signals for its algorithm, there’s no need to hide likes. A simple switch from the heart icon — perhaps back to a star — would be a less dramatic change while achieving the same outcome.

Sarah Perez
Sarah Perez
Staff writer. Previously, Sarah worked for over three years at ReadWriteWeb, a technology news publication. Before working as a reporter, Perez worked in I.T. across a number of industries, including banking, retail and software.

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