10k Tweets Won’t Make Images Accessible

The Twitterverse exploded yesterday with rumors that Twitter is exploring expanding the limit on characters in tweets from 140 to 10,000 characters. In a great example of the hyperbole, The Guardian even reported that Twitter shares plummeted a whole 2% as a result.

Seemingly in support of this move, Jack Dorsey tweeted a long missive acknowledging that users often tweet screen shots of text instead of text itself:

What’s that? You can’t see what he said unless you can download, and then see, and then read the image?

To some, that (lazy) behavior justifies the move past 140 characters. To others, it doesn’t solve the biggest issue in Twitter today — inaccessible images.

To quote Jack from his image tweet (which I couldn’t just copy and paste):

We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it.

Instead, what if that text…was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.

The fact that he didn’t tweet a link to that text tells me that Twitter isn’t doing this for users who need it, Twitter is doing this in a misguided attempt to feed its bottom line.

It’s likely that Twitter won’t blow up your timeline with this change. Odds are that Twitter will still display 140 characters by default, but allow users to expand tweets that have more characters. TechCrunch even addresses it in its surprisingly clearly-titled post Twitter May Increase Tweets To 10,000 Characters, But Hide All Past 140 as does Slate in Twitter Isn’t Raising the Character Limit. It’s Becoming a Walled Garden.

Low-vision users and inclusive UX folks have asked for a method to provide alternative text for images for some time, for reasons that Jack doesn’t even reference (which I gathered in the post Don’t Tweet Pictures of Text).

Let’s be clear about something: this new feature won’t address the inaccessible image issue. Users who cannot be bothered to even link to a longer form of their text (let alone describe an image or chart) are unlikely to use this feature for that purpose.

If Twitter really wants to help users, every time someone tries to upload an image or video, Twitter would prompt the user for a URL or a brief description.

Until then this new (rumored) feature may just be a gimmick.

As it is, if I am following people who start posting 10k tweets, I will likely unfollow them. Brands inserted into my timeline who do this will likely get blocked as opposed to tolerated (my current behavior).

Update: 17 April 2023

Seven years later and Twitter is making 10,000 character tweets a thing:

It is also promising support for bold and italic text, using <span class="r-b88u0q"> for bold and <span class="r-36ujnk"> for italic text. So…

Oh, and you have to pay for this feature.

This post was originally written before Twitter considered accessibility in its platform, and is updated now that Twitter has fired its entire accessibility team and has gone back to not considering accessibility in its platform.

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