How Constraints Affect Content: The Case of Twitter’s Switch from 140 to 280 Characters


  • Kristina Gligorić EPFL
  • Ashton Anderson University of Toronto
  • Robert West EPFL



Constraints in Social Media, Twitter, Linguistic Style, Success


It is often said that constraints affect creative production, both in terms of form and quality. Online social media platforms frequently impose constraints on the content that users can produce, limiting the range of possible contributions. Do these restrictions tend to push creators towards producing more or less successful content? How do creators adapt their contributions to fit the limits imposed by social media platforms? To answer these questions, we conduct an observational study of a recent event: on November 7, 2017, Twitter changed the maximum allowable length of a tweet from 140 to 280 characters, thereby significantly altering its signature constraint. In the first study of this switch, we compare tweets with nearly or exactly 140 characters before the change to tweets of the same length posted after the change. This setup enables us to characterize how users alter their tweets to fit the constraint and how this affects their tweets' success. We find that in response to a length constraint, users write more tersely, use more abbreviations and contracted forms, and use fewer definite articles. Also, although in general tweet success increases with length, we find initial evidence that tweets made to fit the 140-character constraint tend to be more successful than similar-length tweets written when the constraint was removed, suggesting that the length constraint improved tweet quality.




How to Cite

Gligorić, K., Anderson, A., & West, R. (2018). How Constraints Affect Content: The Case of Twitter’s Switch from 140 to 280 Characters. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 12(1).