My Year of Not Liking Anything.
The one neat trick that made zero difference
In 2020, there have been so many opportunities to look back even just a few months with nostalgia, even as there’s ample evidence that things were quite shitty in America and the world before the last day of 2019. Before 2016. Before 1619. As somebody who studies a domestic institution in an age of imperialism, I know better than to romanticize the past. That doesn’t mean I don’t think back wistfully to 2 days ago, when I did not know about this horrific trafficking ring on top of everything else.
Anyway, the other night, a twitter friend noted the loss of a regular platform feature related to its recommendations for new people to follow; you used to be able to refresh that list, but now the algorithm stubbornly defies your attempts to not follow somebody by telling you, even after you’ve taken the extreme step to block them, that you “might like” them. Now that you can’t refresh that list, it’s hard to figure out how to get new recommendations, though I have to admit, I don’t really go looking for more people to follow and trust the RTs of those I already follow better than I trust Twitter. And of course, who can trust Twitter, which proves itself to be part of the problem on an hourly basis, even if we forget about its worst and completely terrifying associations.
Every day I remember why I should leave Twitter as well as why I stay on the platform (not unlike the explanation articulated here). And in the conversation above, I was reminded of, and amused by, a post I had started to write four years ago, prompted by Twitter’s switch from a star to a heart the year before that. I didn’t like the heart, so I decided not to use it, and I actually went a whole year without using it (though I’m sure I have favorited/liked things from that year subsequent to my 365 days of stone cold turkey.) Somewhere in the middle of those 365 days, I started a post here, on this very site, which I intended to publish after the year was up and I had some time to figure out whether I learned anything or if it was meaningful in anyway. (Spoiler alert: uh, it wasn’t?). Anyway, here’s the evidence of that:
I returned to it today, as a way to procrastinate instead of working on my book, and just out of curiosity to see what I had drafted. I looked at it without nostalgia for the “online-me” of this time, because I was pretty sure if I had never hit ‘publish’ on it, there was a reason. After all, I was pretty into doing Twitter stunts back then (exhibit A, exhibit B). I think my reason for consigning this one to the bin was probably “wow, nobody is going to give any fucks about this,” and also “wow, I did this for a year and even I don’t actually care about it either.”
Both remain true, but less so in the second case I guess, because I’m sharing it now, though I don’t care enough to check to see if the links work or to edit out words I use that I wish I hadn’t. Here begins the post I’d begun:
Back in November of 2015, the wise makers of Twitter (which is to say those people who work for Twitter but don’t apparently use it?) decided we (those of us who do use it and therefore work for Twitter with only the platform as its own compensation) didn’t deserve nice things. By nice things, I mean the “star” that used to appear as an option for responding to another Tweeter’s tweet.
Oh, the star. How I loved that little star. And oh, how I hated the idea that they were replacing it with a dumb heart––as Mario Aguilar described it, “a Stupid Fucking Heart.” But by love, I don’t mean the most immediate thing that a heart conveys. In fact, many of us had complicated feelings about it. We didn’t heart it, in part because we felt ambivalent about what a heart means. Many of my own responses are in line with what Tressie McMillan Cottom articulates in this post. I also shared the reactions of some of the people quoted here. It was enough of a media event that several online outlets covered it. Here’s Wired. Here’s The Guardian and The Guardian again.
Some of the critical pieces on the change note specifically that Twitter is all about making a facile change while ignoring changes that are much more important to users, namely its moderation of abuse.
And so it’s all the more amusing that the first three accounts who appear as “liking” Twitter’s Tweet about the change seem like fake accounts and more specifically, porn bots:
Those 28,932 likes, by the way, aren’t a sign of that tweet’s status as “viral.” That’s how many likes it garnered over the course of a year. My own Twitter literacy tells me that it’s actually a small number of shares — evincing the very problem Twitter was hoping to fix with the change––and it also encourages me to think about what the nearly equal number of Retweets, means: some of those Retweets may have been intended as not-likes — that is, either as simple attempts to circulate news about the change, or as a deliberate choice to share but not to like.
Still, the heart has triumphed. One year later, most people seem fine with the button even if they are less than happy with other changes that have taken hold. How many people are still boycotting the heart? Besides me, that is. Probably almost no one.
That the rankling has been forgotten is hardly surprising. I think if Americans can basically let the fact that Al Gore actually won the 2000 election go without massive protest, nobody’s going to remain up in metaphorical arms about a social media button. The button is, as things go, a very small matter.
That said, Twitter is the platform on which I communicate with friends, acquaintances, accomplices and colleagues daily. And my boycott on the button has undoubtedly affected my use of the platform and how other users perceive me on it. Not using one of (what are ultimately) very few features on a social media platform has social consequences, if not what the company cares about, economic ones. In my case, it gave the feature not used a simultaneous lack of meaning and all too much meaning, allowing it to loom larger in my consciousness than it did for people who were using it all the time.
Before Twitter changed again and gave us the option of tweeting emojis, it took more time to respond to tweets I originally would have favorited but not replied to. Sometimes I had to tweet actual words in order to to make it clear that I wasn’t ignoring somebody’s comment. And sometimes — many times, I guess––I began to call attention to my favoriting.
In the last six months, my engagement with the Like button has become mostly a test to myself to see if I could go a year without using it. It took the same kind of willpower that it took for me to go a year without buying lunch or food on my campus; I’m sure that nobody cares one way or the other that I was able to achieve both.
To be sure, I slipped up a few times, not because the desire to Like was so strong but because I fat-fingered a reply on my phone and accidentally hit the button. In those cases, I almost always immediately unfavorited whatever I’d accidentally favorited, and I can only guess whether people who saw that initial notification ever noticed that oh, no, I did not actually like their tweet after all. I can only guess, because literally nobody cared enough to ask me why I took my Like back.
Thus ends the draft I’d composed four years ago, unedited! I think I was going to conclude with some kind of reflection on the sheer inconsequentiality of my own social media use as well as my blogging, which I’d been doing at that point for more than a decade but mostly for my own emotional and intellectual needs. I’m still doing that, I guess. There’s no lesson here, except maybe it’s still hard to say what constitutes meaningful action on Twitter, where personal interventions can go viral and impact people’s cultural capital, but can not disrupt or dismantle capitalism. Part of the reason I don’t leave Twitter is that I know my leaving, like my not-liking, won’t matter. I could blog about why we all should leave Twitter on Medium, but it’s probably only a matter of time before Medium also exemplifies many of the things that are wrong with Twitter.
Hashtag Actually…It does already. That’s it. That’s the lesson.