Digital Citizenship and the 280-Character Limit

Twitter is conducting user research on increased character limits through global beta group testing.  Increasing the limit from 140 to 280-characters is meant to allow twitter users to more effectively express their intended meaning or emotion.  Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, tweeted the news.

Details were further explained via Twitter’s blog Giving You More Characters to Express Yourself .  According to product manager, Aliza Rosen, Twitter conducted research and identified a discrepancy in character use among languages.  All languages except Japanese, Chinese and Korean frequently hit the 140-character limit when Tweeting.  Specifically, 9 % of English Tweets reach 140-character limit, a significantly larger amount than Japanese Tweets (0.4%).  Japanese, Chinese and Korean languages use characters that communicate twice as much information than do European languages.  This limitation may not only restrict posted tweets, but discourage people from posting altogether. Twitter believes increasing the character limit will enhance the user experience (Rosen & Ihara, 2017).

Twitter, a product of Web 2.0, is a participatory forum open to everyone.  Unfortunately, this freedom includes those who use social media to abuse, troll, harass and bully.  “Anonymity abets anti-social behavior” and there are concerns that the “content, tone and intent” of social media is evolving in a manner that fosters a “culture of hate” (Raine, Anderson & Albright, 2017).  Twitter themselves stated in the blog Progress on Addressing Online Abuse (2016) that online abuse has increased dramatically.  They are widely criticized for not seriously addressing this problem, causing many Twitter followers to point out that increasing the character limit will further facilitate abuse.

The Pew Research Report The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online discusses the challenge of maintaining access to information in a real-time, participatory social media culture, and monitoring and administering consequences for abusive behavior.  The report explores the pros and cons of options for cleaning up social media including eliminating anonymity and privacy (Raine, Anderson & Albright, 2017).  According to their blog, Twitter recognizes these challenges and is focusing on controls, reporting and enforcement of abuse to affect change.  They have modified features and filters to give the individual user more control over the participatory experience.  This includes filters that block material and accounts through key words and phrases, a Hateful Conduct Policy, and a direct way to report abuse (Twitter, 2017).  Raine et al, (2017), agree with the concept of fostering a culture of collective support, stating that we need to return to behaving socially and exhibiting social control.

Twitter is a useful forum to gather and disseminate information.  Like all online resources there are benefits and drawbacks to this real-time, open forum.  Librarians must do what they can to foster a community of collective support, advocating inclusion and diversity, providing information including options on how to deal with online abuse, and role modeling positive, productive interactions on social media.


Raine, L. Anderson, J & Albright, J. (2017).  The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online. Pew Research Center (online).  Retrieved from

Rosen, A. & Ihara, I. (2017) Giving you more characters to express yourself.  Twitter Inc. Retrieved from

Twitter Inc. (2016).  Progress on addressing online abuse.  Retrieved from


4 responses to “Digital Citizenship and the 280-Character Limit

  1. Thanks for discussing the recent Twitter changes. I must admit I was somewhat irked at the character increase – part of what I love about Twitter is the fact that comments need to be concise. I’m also glad they are making efforts to clean up the online experience. I agree with your statement that information specialists can have an influence in improving online/social media experiences by teaching safety and encouraging positive online interactions.

    • Hi Dana, thank you for your comments. I feel the same way about the 140 character limit, not just for the challege of composing a concise message, but for reading Tweets by others. Your comment about teaching social media safety is an option that could be used by librarians when developing their online instructional curriculum. I am not sure if I have seen this paricular topic much, but think it is a great idea.

  2. @kelliariel I appreciated the 140 character limit – it always made me think and edit my ideas. It will be interesting to see what doubling the length does. I do not tweet as much as I used to but it remains a vibrant channel during conferences, events, etc.

  3. That is what I and many others liked about Twitter also. I learned that the 140 character limit began from using texting technology, with 140 characters being the limit for texts. Twitter’s current platform has advanced past this and can, in fact, use any amount of characters, but held on to the 140 characters tradition until this beta testing. I like Twitter for a newsfeed, and I follow news agencies like AP news for quick updates. I thought it was interesting that Twitter is used in emergencies by citizens and emergency response units of government agencies to ascertain (based on tweet content) where to respond to locations most affected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar