Getting into Character

Written By: Louise Wylie

Illustration: Skye Galloway

Twitter – or, as my mum calls it, ‘that place where I can argue with Trump supporters’ – is making a drastic change. Tweets will no longer be confined to a miserly 140 characters as a new gargantuan 280 character limit is being phased in. The reactions have been mixed, to say the least. Personally, I am deeply offended that I haven’t been deemed worthy of the added words yet, though my followers might not be all that surprised. Some argue that the expansion will solve some of the frustrations of trying to squeeze a point into a teensy space. Others claim that more characters aren’t necessary, and that wordier tweets have less impact.

In a way, I understand the detractors. The space restrictions on tweets have felt an essential element of the site, giving it a certain style. The need to be concise has boiled jokes down to their essence. If a word adds nothing to the humour, then it gets cut. Ain’t nobody got time for a long-ass meme.

Yet as much as I love well-crafted terrible jokes, I think this change might actually be  better for the Twitter experience.

As many of you will know, Twitter is full of terrible people. It’s a platform that seems to drive people to extremes of opinion, not least when it comes to politics, and this is partly due to the set up. Splitting arguments and debates into 140 character blocks will inevitably mean that some things are skipped over in order to fit. Once you’ve switched to ‘u’s from ‘you’s, to ‘tbh’ from ‘to be honest’, and to ‘wtf’ from ‘what the fuck’, you start having to delete key words that can shift the meaning of your point. When you’re in a fast-paced Twitter fight, words start flying out the window in your haste to prove a stranger on the Internet wrong. Over-simplification of complex ideas leads to misunderstandings and confrontations, and how will you then be able to convince anyone of the validity of your position? (I’m assuming that the aim of Twitter fights is to win people over – this is probably not the case. Still, I live in hope.)  

People might also be more willing to listen if you don’t bam up their phones with a bunch of notifications because what you have to say just won’t fit into that little box. Or even if they are somebody you’re never going to agree with, it’d be nice to not have your phone go off like a magic wand every time you tweet something vaguely radical – I’d rather not receive five notifications from a dude for tweeting “everybody who works full time deserves enough money to live on”. Maybe if this hypothetical man had a higher character limit, my phone would only buzz twice. Of course, it could be the case that having more characters would mean that this troll just feels like he has more space to talk bullshit in, but you never know until you try.

Nuance takes a backseat in the Twittersphere, and even those who might agree if they’d talked IRL end up on opposing sides. At the risk of sounding like a centrist dad, sometimes people need to meet in the middle in order to make real progress. Of course, that doesn’t include Nazis. Fuck them.

On that note, 280 characters might be nice for The Discourse, but it’s not the priority for a lot of Twitter users. Many people are more concerned with tackling harassment and online abuse. There’s long been a problem of abusive accounts going unpunished for the vitriol they spout. Far too often the people behind targeted hate campaigns get off scot-free without even a suspension of their account, leaving the victims to fend off rape threats and the constant stream of bile. This is a huge problem, but one that Twitter can tackle. They already ban far-right accounts but only in Germany, where hate speech is criminalised.

So while this is an interesting change, and – who knows – one that might bring us a little closer together, it’s not a fix-all solution for the deep swamp that is this terrible platform. Give me 280 characters, and, Twitter, ban the fucking Nazis.

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