Twitter founder Jack Dorsey announced at a company event that Twitter would remove the ability to "like" individual tweets in an effort to improve the quality of debate on its website, according to a report in The Telegraph. Although Twitter has not released a definitive statement, its communications team said in a tweet that it is "in the early stages of the work" and has "no plans" to share details at this moment.
“There is no specific timeline for changes or particular planned changes to discuss," the company told The Telegraph. "We're experimenting and considering numerous possible changes, all with an eye toward ensuring we're incentivising the right behaviors to drive healthy conversation.”
Dorsey's announcement follows comments he made in March that Twitter was committed to increasing the “collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation." He admitted that Twitter “didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences” of their platform.
“We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers," he wrote at the time. “We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough. While working to fix it, we‘ve been accused of apathy, censorship, political bias, and optimizing for our business and share price instead of the concerns of society.”
The news that the "like" button would be removed did not go over well with many of the platform's users. Some pointed out that removing the feature would deal a heavy blow to artists and creatives who've used the platform for exposure. Others demanded that the company address the spread of spread of hate speech on its platform.
Twitter reported a net loss of 9 million users in the third quarter of 2018, in part because of its initiative to remove bots and spam from the platform. Variety notes that Twitter "has seen a 20% quarter-over-quarter decrease in successful user-account signups since it rolled out new initiatives to reduce spammers, bots and other suspicious user accounts." Despite these issues, Twitter has "exceeded Wall Street expectations on revenue and earnings, turning in its fourth straight profitable quarter."
In August, Dorsey was criticized for his explanation why the Twitter account of conspiracy theorist and Infowars personality Alex Jones had not been suspended despite his proclivity for hate speech and other violent rhetoric.
“We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does,” Dorsey wrote at the time.
Dorsey conceded that Twitter had “been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past,” but insisted the company would hold Jones and his behavior to the “same standard” every account is held.
Dorsey added that Twitter chooses not to “react to outside pressure” and prefers to stick to its own standards to determine which users are banned from the platform. In any event, he said, Jones’s account is of value to journalists, who can “document, validate, and refute” the information he puts out, which has often been subject to heated criticism for propagating rumors and conspiracy theories.
Dorsey’s explanation was immediately criticized. Many questioned the purpose of allowing the man who claimed the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax and that the victims of the shooting were mere “crisis actors” to retain his Twitter account, particularly when platforms like YouTube and Spotify have chosen to suspend his accounts and cull Infowars and similar content from their platforms altogether.