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Alternative Characters

A more recent trend on social media is the use of alternative characters from external sites to make copy appear in different weights, styles, and typefaces, as seen in captions of the below Instagram posts.

The italic serif characters used in the post on the left to write "La touche française" and the bold sans serif characters used in the post on the right to write "2024 South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade" aren’t actually typefaces available for Instagram captions. They were generated on an external site, copied, and then pasted into Instagram.

While this trend does add visual interest to content, it also slows down the creation process because it requires visiting an external site. More importantly, it’s not an accessible practice.

Not all assistive devices and programs can identify or translate alternative character sets and will skip over them instead. Even worse are the alternative characters that either get turned into unintelligible noises by assistive devices or translated into a language different from the written one.

Using alternative characters can also negatively impact the engagement and searchability of content if a platform doesn’t recognize them as readable characters. 

In the test tweet in the above image on the left, five different alternative character sets were used to write the word “lackadaisical” five times. When an advanced search was done that specifically looked for the word lackadaisical on the account, Twitter/X was unable to locate the test tweet, as shown on the right.

Another thing to consider when using alternative Unicode characters is branding and typography. Almost every organization has a set of brand guidelines and standards that are doggedly enforced by the marketing team. It’s probably safe to say that most of the alternative characters seen on social media are very off-brand with an organization's branded fonts.

Content creators should only use the fonts and formatting options readily available on the platforms. 

Additional Resources and Reading

Want to learn a little more about how things like hashtags, formatting, and different icons can impact your content? Check out the links below!