Twitter’s Open Heart Surgery: More Than Just Cosmetic

An anatomic drawing of a heart on bird feet, looking like a bird with its head cut off. It spurts blood from the neck/artery, and there are a couple of feathers on the ground.

As of this week, on Twitter you can no longer “favorite” tweets. Instead, you “like” them, a change in language that is visually represented by a move away from the little clickable star icon at the bottom of a tweet to a little heart that turns bright red if you click it.

As with any change on Twitter, this one is causing a major uproar across the social network. And indeed, there are a lot of reasons to be upset, even for casual users of the platform — but even more so when thinking about Twitter’s affordances for activists.

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African American English, Appropriation and Corporate Culture Killers

So, you might have heard that Taco Bell’s marketing strategy is “on cleek.” (If you get what’s funny about this, read right on; if not: their marketing genius is appropriating and obviously butchering the expression on fleek, derived from African American English and recently popularized on social media.)

It’s easy – and entirely appropriate – to ridicule a corporate exec’s desperate attempts to sound hip and “with it.” But this little episode reveals aspects of linguistic and cultural appropriation that aren’t as easily laughed away.

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What Color is the Twitter Bird?

Graffiti of a black Twitter bird outlined in white on a black background.

Do a Google image search for terms like ‘tweeting’ or ‘people using Twitter’ and look through the results. Notice anything? Unless Google personalizes your search way differently from mine (and anyone I’ve asked), you’ll see a lot of images of the following type: a phone or tablet displaying some form of Twitter client, held by a hand or pair of hands. Very often, the perspective of the image asks us to imagine that hand as our own.

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