President Donald Trump’s tweets have been an open treasure chest for foreign intelligence agencies since the beginning of his presidency. America’s adversaries just need to follow Trump’s Twitter feed to see what moves and irks the president while he is starting his day in the White House.
But now the situation is even more frightening. Twitter has announced that it will test extending tweet lengths to 280 characters, up from the traditional 140. Trump now will have double the amount of space to reveal his mood to the rest of the world.
Twitter has always been about breaking news, sharing information, and starting conversations. Nobody knows this better than the president, who has turned his early morning tweet storms into brash wake-up calls for politicians and journalists alike. From his mobile phone, Trump sets the news agenda for Washington and beyond as he fires tweets at friends and foes, even right into the middle of the nuclear showdown with North Korea.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone was quick to point out that Twitter’s most prominent political user will not be part of testing the new tweet limit. But the social network was already ablaze with jokes and concerns about what Trump in 280 characters would mean for the world.
Candidate Trump won the election campaign in part due to his savvy use of Twitter, and as president he has at times used the platform to spread rumors and misinformation on impulse. Less has been more for Trump as of now. His Twitter presence benefited from his boldness, authenticity and outlandish claims. Followers know they’re reading his thoughts, often tweeted in the heat of the moment.
The additional characters would amplify the impact of Trump’s tweeting habits, causing even more messaging and policy chaos in his administration. Imagine the additional space for claims about Barack Obama wiretapping him, or all of the news organizations he could have added to his enemies list. His long tweet storms have already proven particularly explosive: Whenever Trump posts multiple tweets to circumvent the 140-character limit, a massive media response is almost guaranteed.
The true danger of the tweet length change lies on the world stage. Trump has already caused major diplomatic irritations and distrust. His recent speech at the United Nations, while unconventional and controversial, was still vetted and well prepared. A spontaneous tweet, however, written at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could potentially start a war. The longer Trump’s tweets, the more precarious the situation can become. Just imagine if he had expanded on his tweet that North Korean leaders “won’t be around much longer” if they keep threatening the U.S.
Twitter has discussed expanding its character limit for a while, so it seems likely that this change will eventually become permanent. If Trump takes advantage of the change, we could be in for an even more tumultuous presidency.
Marcus Messner is an associate professor of journalism in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University.