You might think that Retweets are public and Likes are private. This makes sense, in a way: anything you Retweet is instantly pushed to your followers, and Twitter doesn’t make it clear at all what happens when you Like a tweet.
But your Likes are not private. Anyone who wants to can scroll through everything you’ve ever liked, and Twitter can decide to point them out to your followers. Let’s go over what happens when you Like a tweet.
First of all there’s the notifications. When you like a tweet the person who wrote it will find out instantly, thanks to a notification like this one:
Everyone mentioned in a tweet will also see a notification. In some cases, if you liked a Retweet, the person who retweeted the original tweet will also see a notification.
So that’s the first way in which your likes aren’t private: everyone involved with the tweet will see that you liked it. This means it’s probably not a good idea to scroll back ten years in someone’s timeline and hit the “Like” button: they’ll know, and it will creep them out. (If you’re actually trying to creep someone out, though, I recommend you check out Twitter’s advanced search and find the truly ancient tweets.)
In addition, people can see your Likes from your profile page. There’s a “Likes” tab right there, which anyone can click in order to see every single tweet you’ve liked.
That’s right: anyone who wants to can scroll through every tweet you’ve ever liked. This somewhat obscure feature has burned more than a few politicians, movie stars, and professional athletes, so if you’re a public figure be aware of it, and consider being careful what you like.
And it gets worse. You know how Twitter keeps pestering you with unrelated notifications? Sometimes these notifications point out a tweet liked by multiple people you’ve followed, meaning your followers could find out about a tweet you’ve liked this way. And the “Best Tweets” feature at the top of the timeline could also point out things you’ve liked to your followers. The ongoing Facebookification of Twitter means your likes could only become less private over time.
Is there some way to hide all of this? You could make your Twitter account private, or you could just stop liking things. There really aren’t any better choices than that, so maybe just be careful about what you like.