During the past couple weeks the public interest in Twitter’s decision to switch it’s character limit to 280 characters for certain countries has diminished, which is the opposite of what the profoundly negative social impacts of this decision will do in the current social and journalistic climate.
Twitter’s colloquial reputation of being “where news happens” should have been a red flag to the company not to increase its character limit for two critical reasons. The decision will only hasten the demise of the ability of the public to engage in quality journalism, and much more importantly, it gives men in positions of power more fodder to deny the charges made against them.
The public (twitter’s audience) believes men more than they do women, as demonstrated by the well-known fact that the majority of gendered harassment cases go unreported. As it is, victims that do report harassment are generally not doing so on Twitter, while, because of its function as a venting platform, men do use it to deny wrongdoing. Consequently, the increase in rhetorical power amongst men and women granted by more space to type is woefully disproportionate.
According the BBC, the U.S. National Basketball Referees Association hoped “The elevated character limits would the new limit would usher in a new era of calm, reasonable and grammatically coherent Twitter discourse.”
Here’s why that won’t happen.
Twitter operates in the public sphere, a place where the more characters a man can use to deny harassment the less character the public demands from him (a talkative Alabamian senator presents the proof.) This erosion of the standards of public discourse on Twitter is why the repercussions of a 280 character limit will snowball. As individual men grow more powerful through arrogant blabbering, silencing women via such blabbering will become increasingly popular.
“I can definitely see the difference, you don’t have to worry about making your tweets shorter,” says sophomore Angel Hernandez. “At the same time I see a lot of people use it as a venting session, people want to get things off their chest.”
One needs look no further than the leader of the supposedly free world for an example of this phenomenon. While Trump publicly debases women and girls by defending Roy Moore for the sake of his tax bill, many of us have forgotten that he is currently being sued for libel over his denials of sexual harassment allegations against him. According to the Washington Post, Many of these denials occurred on Twitter.
Not everything, however, is about sex and gender. As Twitter will be happy to tell you, some things are about journalism.
We millennials have heard it from left, right, north, and south that we don’t know how to find good news. The reason is simple: we don’t. As journalistic platforms release more information in their Twitter posts, many readers of those posts will deem themselves sufficiently informed. This describes the exact same phenomenon that perverted the meaning of the word “research” into something that centers primarily on the use of Google. As all information becomes easier to access, we all devote less effort to accessing good information.
Twitter changed its character limit on Nov. 7, just over a month after the New York Times released its now landmark report on the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Much of the public exposure of the fact that sexual predation exists not merely as a problem but as a culture has occurred since both of those events. So we might forgive Twitter for its initial release of the 280 character limit, but as the extent of toxic masculinity becomes increasingly clear, the social media platform would do well to recognize that it has contributed to the wrong cause.