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

49 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2018

See all articles by Kokil Jaidka

Kokil Jaidka

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) - Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information

Alvin Zhou

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication

Yphtach Lelkes

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: November 20, 2018

Abstract

Many hoped that social networks 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 discussion. Twitter, the most widely used social network for political discussions, doubled the limit of characters in a Tweet in November 2017, which provided a natural experiment to study the causal effect of technological affordances on political discussions with a discontinuous time series design. Using supervised and unsupervised natural language processing methods, we analyze 358,242 Tweet replies to U.S. politicians from January 2017 to March 2018. We show that the doubling the permissible length of a Tweet led to more polite, less informal, more analytical, and overall healthier discussions online. However, the declining trend in the political relevance of these tweets raises concerns about the implications of the changing norms for the quality of political deliberation.

Keywords: Political Communication, Political Discussion, Social Media, Computational Social Science

Suggested Citation

Jaidka, Kokil and Zhou, Alvin and Lelkes, Yphtach, Brevity Is the Soul of Twitter: The Constraint Affordance and Political Discussion (November 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3287552 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3287552

Kokil Jaidka

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) - Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information ( email )

Singapore

Alvin Zhou

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

Yphtach Lelkes (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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