On Sep. 29, it was revealed that Twitter executives are looking into ways to potentially get rid of—or at least make it easier to bypass—the platform’s 140-character limit. Long a hallmark of the social media giant, Twitter’s character limit has been a matter of contention for years. But while lifting the limit might seem like a good thing, it could be detrimental to the unique community of writers and creatives who have found a home on the platform.
Superficially inconvenient, the 140-character limit has forced Twitter users to become better writers and salespeople. Brevity is the mark of a person who has command of both language and the subject and in this space, no one is allowed to wax poetic about anything.
Far from stifling user expression, however, these parameters have taught us to develop our own unique style and flow. With practice, you learn how to use the limit to your advantage. For those who like to use Twitter for comedic reasons, the pressure to be swift and impactful is intensified, and punch lines become amplified as much by what’s left unsaid than what is said. The only downside to the limit is that there isn’t much room for nuance—one must create a thread of tweets in order to show a progression of thought. However, this separation can actually work to your advantage, allowing for followers to process information much more seamlessly.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a platform where ideas are exchanged constantly. This proliferation of information hones our ability to process information quickly. The more one tweets, the more exposure he or she receives. From a branding perspective, this privileges those who are able to say what they want to say quickly and efficiently. Craft a perfect tweet and its potential for global reach and impact is practically incredible. The most successful of us manage to be both poignant and witty in bite-sized portions. This isn’t academia, and we don’t want it to be.
Then there are practical considerations, especially for Twitter’s most marginalized. Women and minority users have found the platform to be fertile ground for debate and community building—but it has also turned them into targets. If Twitter is strongly considering lifting the 140-character limit ban, it must first put in place stricter anti-harassment regulations. With more room to run, rhetorically speaking, trolls will be given more freedom to attack.
Already struggling to deal with the daily deluge of vitriol, Twitter may be unable to handle an increased volume of hate. New victims will emerge. In an era when everyone believes their opinion is important, Twitter reminds us that sometimes it’s more productive to take your debate offline or into a private direct message. Information exchanged between two or more followers is not necessarily conducive to a productive or civil conversation. And that’s okay.
Whether it was trying to or not, Twitter’s 140-character limit has forced innovation in language and art, and created a platform perfectly tailored to facilitate instant interaction and community building—all while catering to our short attention spans.
Instead of looking for ways to dilute the power of these innovations, Twitter’s board should be focusing on ways to make Twitter more secure for users (enabling trigger warnings for violent posts or videos and banning trolls would be a good start). And while you’re at it, could you make it so photos don’t automatically reduce the amount of characters?
There are more arguments to be made against the change from a tech angle, but ultimately it comes down to this: If we wanted Twitter to be like Facebook or Instagram—social-media platforms that have been overtaken by epic rants and 500-word-long updates—we would simply use those sites. Don’t mess with what isn’t broken, Jack Dorsey. Sometimes, a little restraint is exactly what the world needs.