Over the Character Limit

Over the Character Limit, supported by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, found that the more moral virtue language is being used on Twitter, the more likely there is to be virtuous behaviour on the platform.

For this project, Demos researchers built two statistical models, which predicted that for every ten more tweets sent by a user containing terms like ‘courage’, ‘empathy’ and ‘humility’, that account would send five more tweets expressing gratitude, and one more link to fundraising campaigns. The research also found that the number of tweets sent linked to a charitable campaign is positively related to the overall amount of money raised by that campaign.

Further findings from the report reveal that:

  • Interaction on social media can provide the encouragement people need to persevere in developing a skill. There is a significant positive relationship between people on Twitter engaging with others committing publicly to programmes such as ‘#100daysofanimation’, and the length of time for which people continue using them.
  • During 203 days, just over one million tweets were sent from the UK using one of the terms ‘courage’, ‘empathy’, ‘honesty’ and ‘humility’, with 71 per cent of these using terms to praise or condemn the character of others.
  • Discussion of morality on Twitter differs noticeably from its use in other public environments. Twitter users in the UK tend to discuss empathy more than both parliamentarians [as recorded in Hansard] and broadcasts on the BBC.

To help people develop a sense of virtue, and comfort with discussing virtue online, Over the Character Limit is calling for character building to accelerate as a priority for the Department for Education. The report also calls for the Department to reinstate funding cancelled in 2017 to promote character development in schools.

Read the full report here.