Brevity is the soul of Twitter

A new study from the Annenberg School for Communication finds that the 280-character limit makes Twitter more civil.

A platform once populated with harmless messages about one’s favorite TV shows or happenings about town, Twitter often devolves into a hotbed of harassment, bullying, and metaphorical yelling.

Many users thought doubling the platform’s character limit from 140 characters to 280, as Twitter did in November of 2017, could only make matters worse. But a new study from the Annenberg School for Communication found the opposite. The research team, led by Professor Yphtach Lelkes, analyzed tweets from before and after Twitter implemented the increased character limit, and concluded that the average quality of conversation improved.

Six conversation bubbles with hashtags

“Message length has always played a big role in social media,” says Lelkes. “SMS apps were originally limited to 140 characters, as was Twitter for many years. Twitter’s increase in character limit offered us an opportunity to conduct a natural experiment and consider how message length impacts quality of conversation online.”

The researchers defined quality as an ideal form of political debate, so they evaluated tweets for clarity, polite language, justification of opinions, and the use of facts or links to more information. They also evaluated whether users were actually exchanging ideas and deliberating, as opposed to issuing conversation-ending slurs.

They found that when people had more space to explain themselves, the overall discourse was more deliberative, polite, and civil.

Read more at the Annenberg School for Communication.