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Twitter’s Brave New Feature: More Words

Amid problems like harassment and threats of nuclear war, a new character-count limit could be looming

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Amid concerns about harassment, bots, and threats of nuclear war on its platform, Twitter announced on Tuesday it is experimenting with doubling the character count of tweets from 140 to 280. Twitter will adjust the limit in small groups during a trial that will last a few weeks.

(For reference, the above paragraph is how long a new, lengthened tweet could be.)

The change will initially only affect a small percentage of users around the globe in a trial that will last at least a few weeks. Afterward, Twitter will decide whether to expand the new character limit to everyone. Twitter has been considering an increased character count, internally dubbed “beyond 140” (sick codename, you guys), for at least the last couple of years as the company chases profitability.

Last year, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey denied a change to the character count was coming. “It’s staying. It’s a good constraint for us,” Dorsey said on the 10th anniversary of Twitter in March 2016. “It allows for of-the-moment brevity.”

A company blog post explaining the decision to start the character-count trial stated a desire to enable “every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter.” The post, written by Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen and senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara, discussed how tweeting in English is more constraining than other languages, like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, which are able to convey more through fewer characters. (According to Twitter, those three languages won’t be involved in the trial.)

Via Twitter

For Twitter purists, 280 characters are too many. Brevity is the soul of wit, as well as Twitter, and it would likely benefit us all to become better editors rather than ramble on. But the character limit is sort of beside the point here: The more egregious issue is that once again, it feels like Twitter is dodging the real problems with its platform in favor or distracting updates that send users into tailspins. Like when it changed its squares into circles, the site seems to be dancing around its core problems, like harassment and bots and a president who uses it to threaten world leaders. On a platform where character counts often cleave context from conversations, perhaps more words will mean better, more enlightened dialogue. Probably not, though.