Last week social media microblogging site Twitter announced that it would slowly start to introduce a new limit of 280 characters per tweet. That might not seem like a lot but to some twitter users it makes a huge difference. For example, with Twitter’s original limit of 140 characters, the first sentence of this paragraph would not fit in a tweet. With the new limit, that sentence and the one following it would both fit, leaving an additional 55 characters for the site’s traditional hashtags to follow them up. But what’s the point?
Some people say it’s a long overdue change. The 140 character maximum has always been limiting to tweeters, forcing the use of abbreviated language or emojis in place of words making it difficult to get out a serious tweet without looking like a teenager in the early 2000s when text speak was popular. Recently, that has lead people who have something important to say to create ‘threads’ of tweets, where they begin writing something the length of a traditional blog post — sometimes as long as several hundred words — and post it in a series of tweets replying to the first. Another tactic has been to write a post on a phone’s notepad app, screenshot it, and post the photos to Twitter.
However, increasing the character limit after nearly 12 years seems a bit suspicious. According to a 2016 report released by the Pew Research Center, only 24 per cent of all online adults use Twitter. While that might seem like a lot of people, when compared with the 79 per cent that use Facebook Twitter’s market share seems rather small. To put it in even greater perspective, more people use Pinterest and LinkedIn than use Twitter.
So why now? Could it be that the social media site saw a need and decided to give the people what they want? Maybe. More likely, it seems they’re just trying to stay relevant in an online world whose general attention span and attention to detail regarding truth and lies on social media is increasing. Instead of addressing real problems with the site — death threats, bullying, porn bots — Twitter actually only succeeded in allowing a bigger platform for a world leader who seems determined to start a twitter fight with every living creature on the planet including those who might retaliate with a nuclear weapon instead of an attack on his fake tan.
Essentially, social media has transformed in the same way as mobile phone technology. It started out big, with blog sites, and then shrunk down to the size of traditional Twitter. Now, like with the iPhone, people are realizing that they want more from their social media. Twitter is losing the fight for our attention. Their attempts to stay relevant are only making them seem less so. Fix your real problems, Twitter. Don’t create the potential for more.