Twitter’s Expansion to 280 Characters Is Dumb



A few weeks ago Twitter announced that it was doubling the number of characters it allowed in its tweets, from 140 characters to 280.

The stated reason?

Analysis had shown that 9% of tweets (for those of you who are math-challenged, that’s one in 11) are exactly 140 characters long.

This thus indicates that a strong minority users wish they could say more, but are actively editing their thoughts to precisely fit the micro-blog’s restrictions.

As usual with social media announcements of this kind, Twitter users did not disappoint:

Twitter Users Respond


 The Real Reason

Like many, I don’t buy the stated reason for the expansion.

The truth is it’s been ~two years since original CEO Jack Dorsey has been back at the helm, and Twitter has only recently achieved modest – but positive – growth.

  • For its latest quarter, Twitter reported earnings of $590 million (vs. the $586.7 million expected by analysts).
  • The service added 4 million Monthly Active Users since last quarter, a growth rate of 4 percent year over year.

Be that as it may, expanding the platform’s character count makes little sense strategically.

Twitter’s entire purpose was to incentivize people to be brief.

Its competitive advantage is that it owns that space.

In addition, Twitter is now so dominant in the microblogging social media sphere that it might as well be a public utility.

But that’s the problem.

Enabling Harassment

As popular as Twitter is (with 68 million monthly active users in the U.S.), that’s actually down from Q1 2017 (when it had 79 million monthly active users in the U.S.).

Since then, the platform’s come under intense criticism for allowing – even enabling, due to user anonymity – the spread of sexual harassment and hate speech.

In September, Twitter even had to defend its refusal to suspend President Trump’s account, despite clear violations of the platform’s Terms of Service when he threatened North Korean leader Kim Jung Un.

Twitter expressly forbids “violent threats (direct or indirect).”

But here, Twitter has allowed the president free reign because his tweets are automatically deemed “newsworthy” and thus in the “public interest.”

In this case, the president’s tweet was indeed newsworthy, as The Huffington Post reported that North Korea’s Foreign Minister responded that the country considered Trump’s tweet a “declaration of war”:

“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country. The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.”

Regardless of your political affiliation or view of our president, the fact remains that Twitter is woefully inconsistent about which accounts it bans for abusive behavior vs. which it does not.

And now, the platform announces it will double the number of characters it allows — thus eroding the required brevity that’s been its core strategic strength for more than a decade.

You don’t make millions of dollars selling “Six Minute Abs” and then decide to release “12 Minute Abs.”

That’s. Just. Dumb.

Taken together, however, the doubling of allowed characters and inconsistent enforcement to curb harrasssment point to Twitter’s real problem:

A lack of strategic vision.

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