Twitter expands tweet length, sacrifices clarity in the process

Sounding off on Twitter just got an upgrade. On Tuesday, Sept. 26, Twitter announced it will test the idea of expanding tweets to 280 characters or less. Twitter’s online announcement claims they are, “giving you more characters to express yourself.” The change comes out of users’ frustration of continuously hitting character limits without fully expressing ideas.

The original tweet limit was based on the size of an sms message, 160 characters. Twitter allotted 140 characters for text and 20 characters for a username. The short amount of space Twitter granted encouraged careful editing in order to effectively get across ideas. For this reason, DePaul professor of communications Kelli Marshall incorporated Twitter into her film studies courses.

(Ally Zacek/The DePaulia)

“Twitter forced my students to think and to write critically about films using as few words as possible,” Marshall said. “The 140-character limit always made them get to ‘the meat of the issue,’ so to speak. They didn’t have enough space to write fluff.”

Short character limits encouraged better writing. It forced users to get to the point, use concise language, and cut out repetition. Lengthening tweets will not only negatively impact grammar, but also give “Twitter trolls” a larger platform to disseminate their ideas. The current practice for stringing long-form thoughts together is through a tweet thread. This practice is lengthy, making arguments separated and unmoving. In other words, a 140 character limit makes a Twitter troll’s argument less powerful due to its fragmented delivery. Expanding tweets to 280 characters will give trolls more space to attack others and make messages more impactful due to their collective delivery.

“ I don’t think this (280 characters) will significantly change U.S. Twitter practices, except that we can say in one tweet what we used to say in two,” said Paul Booth, DePaul professor of Media and Cinema Studies. “People will still troll, will still spread memes, will still interact. People, in other words, will still be people.” Trolls on Twitter will remain no matter the character count. However, expanding the amount of room trolls have to spread messages will only hurt the platform.

On the other hand, it is important to think about Twitter’s character limits in a global perspective. The increased character limit will make the social site globally focused, giving all languages the opportunity to fully communicate ideas. Booth said, “While the original 140 character limit was originally imposed to fit within text messaging limitations, those same limits no longer apply. In the U.S. we often forget that people from other countries use Twitter as well, so upping the character limit to 280 can help people in other languages (where more characters are needed to communicate).”   

While this is an issue for languages such as English, French or Spanish, languages such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean do not experience issues with hitting character limits. The average tweet in Japanese reaches 15 characters, as the Japanese language allows one to say more with fewer characters. Twitter’s announcement of the character change noted that an average tweet in English is 34 characters long.

Twitter tested the 280-character limit with a small amount of users, many of whom pointed out the absurdity of the new length. Users began adding signatures to tweets and editing down 280 character tweets to fit into the 140-character limit. Vice editor Caitlyn Kelly shortened Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s 280-character announcement of expanded tweets back to the 140 character format. This exemplifies how 280 characters promotes repetitive language and gives users the opportunity to ramble, when the same idea could be communicated in a smaller amount of words.

DePaul Senior Sydney Varner said, “I’m glad I don’t have to knowingly make as many grammatical errors but then again I think some people should be restricted to those 140-character responses.” 280-characters would allow for less abreviations, but overall less thought out, edited tweets.

Whether or not Twitter will permanently expand all tweets to 280 characters or not, longer tweets take away from the essence of the site.