Late yesterday Twitter announced the unthinkable for time-pressed journalists everywhere by revealing it is testing doubling the character length of tweets.
Farewell sweet brevity of 140chars. Hello pointless extra blah-blah-blah #280.
But why oh why is Twitter doing this?
“In all markets, when people don’t have to cram their thoughts into 140 characters and actually have some to spare, we see more people tweeting,” wrote product manager, Aliza Rosen, in a rather wordy blog post explainer about the move — which even included a graph!
Though not a graph of Twitter’s user growth not growing.
(Here, I fixed Rosen’s explanation to fit it in far fewer characters: ‘We’re trying to fix our growth problem.’)
While Rosen talked about Twitter wanting “every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter”, there was no specific discussion about how Twitter’s 140 constraint might be exacerbating problematic speech in the public domain.
By, for example, turning nuanced discussion into polarized arguments and irascible abuse. Or “shouty crap” as a colleague more concisely put it.
(Also not in Rosen’s post: Any graphs detailing Twitter’s problem with abusive behavior on its platform.)
But even if Twitter didn’t want to explicitly discuss the problem of trolls and bullies on its platform, it may be hoping the expansion to 280 characters encourages people to tweet less, well, “shouty crap”.
Which is indeed a possibility. Though there is also the flip-side possibility that — for example — the current president of the U.S. will just get double the amount of newsworthy tweet space with which to threaten nuclear annihilation.
Or, to put it another way…
Whether Trump, with 280 characters locked and loaded, will suddenly lose the urge to tweet at “Rocket Boy” (10chars) — and instead feel moved to address the “Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (103chars) does seem rather unlikely though.
So sure, the case for 280 posits there’s at least an opportunity for nuance to exist inside a (double-sized) tweet. But the con says that really depends on who’s doing the tweeting.
(Or the ‘ttwweeeettiinngg’ as it should really now be termed.)
Here’s my TC colleague Josh Constine demonstrating how it’s perfectly possible to fit a lot of high quality information into Twitter’s existing 140 character limit without shouting and/or being otherwise tactless/impolite.
Ergo, it ain’t tweet size that matters Twitter — it’s what you do with the characters that counts.
But regardless of whether 280 characters leads to a wider evolution of tone on Twitter — and in the case of Trump, when/if he gets handed the nuclear codes to #280, to a new deal on diplomacy and a less destablized geopolitical world (we can but hope!) — @Jack & co can at least console themselves that advertisers will find plenty of uses for all the extra marketing real estate Twitter is going to be giving them.
See for e.g.
So, from Twitter’s point of view at least, there are a fair few potential pros stacking up under the ‘let’s kill the tweet’ nuclear option, alongside their main concern here: Trying to assuage investors.
Pros like being less likely to be blamed for an overly concise tweet triggering nuclear war.
While disrupting the workflow of the (small) hardcore of users who rely on Twitter to be a reliably dense and largely self-manageable digital information network in an increasingly misinformation saturated and algorithmically controlled world is clearly a lesser consideration.
And at this point in the rapidly escalating story of social media’s impact on democracy and society who, indeed, can blame them.
Even if more social media doesn’t necessary sound like a great solution to problems being exacerbated by social media. Whatever the social media giants say.
Tech tweets on #280
Below is a flavor of opinions on Twitter’s #280 experiment surfaced from the tech space — which runs a pretty full gamut of views on mega tweets — from supportive (and/or sarcastic) to indifferent to excited to horrified to snarky to creative to critical to navel-gazing to, well, hopeful that the change might finally break the addictive spell of Twitter…
Can’t wait for #bringback140.
Featured Image: Bryce Durbin