The arrival of 4000 symbols, revolution or chaos?

Remember. It’s 2017, and Twitter decides to double the size of posts. No more than 140 characters – according to the maximum length of the SMS – hello 280 characters. Netizens are lost and crying foul (okay, yes, we’re exaggerating a bit). Five years later, the drama is quickly forgotten, and no one is against this change. But resentment can quickly return. In a short reply to a user, Twitter’s new CEO Elon Musk confirmed that he will increase the size of posts to 4,000 characters, which is almost the equivalent of an article. 20 minutes.

Stephanie Laporte, founder of the Otta agency and program director of digital communications at Inseec, believes that after paid certification, mass layoffs and reduced moderation, this new functionality “could be an additional nail in Twitter’s coffin.” With good reason, the multibillionaire could “damage the soul of Twitter” by significantly increasing the length of tweets, the expert warns.

Toward a multitasking network?

Because it is this microblogging spirit that has made the bluebird company successful. “Twitter is an exercise in compactness and synthesis. We have information in one or two lines,” explains Stephanie Laporte. For those who want to decipher a slightly longer topic, there are now very popular topics used by scientists, especially during the coronavirus epidemic. “Some threads today are a few thousand characters long, it’s true, but they’re rare, it’s not a central functionality of Twitter,” he adds.

According to the expert, the new head of “Twitter” intends to turn the platform into a “meta social network, a multi-purpose platform” with longer published content. Twins of Facebook in a way. “But if you want to develop a point, there’s LinkedIn, Facebook or even blogs. On the other hand, Twitter should remain a common place where you can quickly learn about information,” warns Stephanie Laporte. Because, in his opinion, it is this multifaceted aspect that led to the decline of Facebook: “On the contrary, Instagram was reduced to using only photo and video sharing, which did not drown in the ocean of possibilities.”

The risk for Twitter is losing some of its users. First, the new generation, which, according to the expert, is “hostile to extensive content”, as well as its historical audience, adds to this spirit of compactness. “If we see the wall of text coming, it could have a negative impact on both generations,” continues Stephanie Laporte. Especially since this feature can also disrupt the way users “swipe”: “It won’t fit the mobile format, the text will take up the entire screen. Inevitably, there will be less user retention,” he continues.

While the feature isn’t live yet, Twitter designer Andrea Conway has already shared the first mockups and provided a preview of how posts might look. Posts will display the first 280 characters – the current limit – and then a “see more” button to view the full text.

Posts with 4000 characters can look like this.
Posts with 4000 characters can look like this. – Screenshot of Andrea Conway’s tweet

Moderation difficulties

Another danger is moderation. It could still get worse with this new feature, which has been a major concern since the arrival of Elon Musk. “Now that there’s less staff and we’re going to increase the length of tweets by a factor of twenty, the amount of moderation is going to be horrendous,” worries Stephanie Laporte.

With moderation problems comes the fear of disinformation. Because with 4000 characters, some users could post partially duplicated articles or fake news. The expert cautions that others may put sensational information at the beginning – the first 280 characters – to “ultimately offer weak content in a long text”. “It can be confusing and hurt the quality of the content,” he adds.

Nevertheless, Elon Musk’s idea does not come out of nowhere, meeting the needs of some users. When browsing Twitter, it’s not uncommon to come across a tweet that includes a screenshot of a note like Kylian Mbappé’s below.

Unlike the threads used by experts – scientists, doctors, journalists, this trick is used more by public figures. There is also a site for sending messages over 280 characters: TwitLonger. Here, at 4,872 characters, this article already looks a bit like a Twitter 2.0 post.

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