Brevity is the Soul of Twitter: The Constraint Affordance and Political Discussion

Abstract

Many hoped that social networking sites would allow for the open exchange of information and a revival of the public sphere. Unfortunately, conversations on social media are often toxic and not conducive to healthy political discussions. Twitter, the most widely used social network for political discussions, doubled the limit of characters in a tweet in November 2017, which provided an opportunity to study the effect of technological affordances on political discussions using a discontinuous time series design. Using supervised and unsupervised natural language processing methods, we analyzed 358,242 tweet replies to U.S. politicians from January 2017 to March 2018. We show that doubling the permissible length of a tweet led to less uncivil, more polite, and more constructive discussions online. However, the declining trend in the empathy and respectfulness of these tweets raises concerns about the implications of the changing norms for the quality of political deliberation.

Publication
Journal of Communication