by Daley Wilhelm

For a long time, the beauty of Twitter has been in its brevity. In fact, these two sentences total in the 140 characters a tweet is made of. Minus the punctuation, actually. Proper grammar and punctuation become issues, making the need for slang and abbreviation essential in tweeting. Which works and perhaps is even preferred in some cases, because a tweet is inherently different from a Facebook post or blog entry. You have to say what you mean concisely, with none of this flowery language I’m implementing in this introductory paragraph.

But now Twitter is changing, and with it perhaps the culture it has created around its short sentences. On the 26th of September, Twitter stated that it had plans to double the character limit, giving people a whole 280 characters with which to express themselves. This decision mostly centers around the fact (and this lovely graph) that English speakers especially have a hard time cramming everything they need to say within a single tweet. Languages like Japanese and Chinese have the benefit of an entirely different alphabet that oftentimes allows them to have an entire multisyllabic word within a single character.


Image from Twitter’s Blog

Before this becomes official, Twitter is testing it on a small amount of people. In the same blog post, Aliza Rosen and Ikuhiro Ihara both admit to the emotional attachment people might have to the 140 character limit and that Twitter is all about getting right to the point. Many have taken to Twitter to both test and protest the proposed update.

As it turned out however, only about five percent of tweets during this test were over 140 characters. I’m inclined to say doubling the amount seems like too much to work with, and to make fun of the 280 character tweets that seem ludicrously long and unnecessary. But part of me hesitates to reject this character limit update, because the culture of Twitter has changed from that of quick quips and memes to policy-making statements and the soapbox of the people. A lot of important things can’t and shouldn’t be said in 140 characters. This previous sentence would be my 73-character statement to the likes of Donald Trump.

Overall, a look at Trump’s timeline shows that he is comfortable making official statements that affect millions within just 140 characters. This is clear through his trans military ban and travel ban tweet, among others. I think there’s a lot to criticize about the current administration, but for me it seems like there’d be a lot less controversy if such critical statements weren’t made in such an informal way. Finding the president’s personal opinion on the mayor of the drowned Puerto Rican capital beside memes and pictures of my friends’ cats has become a surreal reality.

The problem with announcing policy-making statements via Twitter (other than the fact that you absolutely shouldn’t) is that you can’t make a complete argument in a tweet. You can make a statement, but there’s hardly any room for facts, let alone citing your sources or appealing to reason. “After consulting with my staff and other experts, I have come to the decision that” is already 84 characters, not leaving a lot of room for further elaboration.

And this goes for other public figures as well. Twitter has become the platform where people can take stands, be called out, or make public apologies as with what has happened lately with Hollywood. Typically, apologies like the one Kevin Spacey tweeted last week, are longer than 140 characters and are thus in an image of a note or Word document.

I can definitely see where an increase in space would allow for important statements to be made, because the culture of Twitter has shifted from a place for brief updates and funny quips to where nuclear war can be declared, where movements are started, and where yet another Hollywood actor has to apologize for sexually assaulting someone.

This shift shouldn’t entirely be credited to Donald Trump, but rather as an eventuality. One of the biggest appeals of Twitter is the ability to follow celebrities and interact in a way that feels more casual. Random tweets from a nobody with 100 followers can suddenly go viral. In our busy lives, “Did you see that tweet?” is the new “Did you read that article?”

The Pew Research Center notes that over 70% of Twitter users get news via Twitter. It’s hard to avoid, and this stat is ever-increasing, and likely will continue to increase so long as people can retweet articles with their outrage, comedy, or elation attached in 140 (or now 280) characters.

Image from the Pew Research Center

So maybe Tweets shouldn’t be so brief. Maybe this is the burden of becoming so critical to the public. Maybe Twitter has expanded to make room for more to be put into important people’s tweets and more crucial information to be communicated to the masses. Whether one finds this update refreshing or excessive, something about it has made Twitter return to it’s meme-loving roots.

Sources: Twitter, CNN, Byte, The Pew Research Center

Images: Twitter’s Blog, Twitter, The Pew Research Center


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