In a news cycle intent on uncovering the roles of Facebook and Twitter in the 2016 presidential election, Twitter managed to briefly redirect journalists’ attention by unveiling a new feature.
The feature, rolled out to a small group of users on Tuesday, increases the character limit for tweets from the current limit of 140 to 280 .
In a company blog post, Twitter explained that the feature is being tested to remove barriers that keep users from tweeting more frequently. The company hopes the higher character limit will encourage users to consistently utilize the platform.
“In languages like Japanese, Korean, and Chinese you can convey about double the amount of information in one character as you can in many other languages, like English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French,” wrote Twitter’s Aliza Rosen and Ikuhiro Ihara.
Though the pace of growth has stagnated, Twitter’s user base has grown to an all time height of 328 million monthly active users in 2017, according to Statista. And, according to a Pew Research study, among adults under the age of 50, 23 percent use Twitter, with 38 percent of them posting daily.
With more users than ever, and a large percentage of them posting every day, it would be expected that with the new character limit people would use Twitter more. However, Twitter reports that only 0.4 percent of users have reached the 140 character limit in 2017. With only nine percent of all Tweets being 140 characters, do users really want more room to write?
Journalists, some of Twitter’s most devoted users, took to the platform to voice their opinions on the feature, although most of those opinions were still confined to 140 characters. Most complained that the feature would ruin the main thing that Twitter does well — conveying quick and concise news in digestible bites.
The long tweet looks terrible! It's a paragraph, not a quip; a long winded digression where a snappy line should do. Brevity doesn't just enable cleverness; It forces information to be instantly digestible, a necessity for a real-time stream. This, you see and just want to skip.
— Jeremy Gordon (@jeremypgordon) September 27, 2017
Some journalists pointed to other drawbacks of the higher character limit, like more space for the harassment that journalists of color and female reporters often face on Twitter.
Twitter users want an end to death threats and other forms of harassment, and sensible policies on Nazis–instead we get 280 characters.
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) September 26, 2017
“Sometimes nuance gets lost in 140 characters,” Harry Enten, senior political writer and analyst at FiveThirtyEight, said in an interview with MediaFile. “Allowing for greater than 140 characters could allow journalists to get their points across more clearly.”
On the other hand, Enten, an active Twitter user himself, noted that what Twitter does best is conveying information as quickly and succinctly as possible.
“Twitter, at its best, is a newswire,” he said.
Will longer tweets change the nature of the platform itself? Perhaps. But, Enten says his Twitter style likely won’t change.
“I’m a snarky guy,” said Enten. “You don’t snark in 200 characters. You do it in 50.”
Only time will tell if tweets do actually get longer, or if the move will impact the way journalists engage with Twitter. Perhaps journalists will start using it for more explanatory purposes rather than breaking news and pithy barbs. In the meantime, most users’ Twitter feeds have moved on to the next news item and, of course, the next hot take.