An often-overlooked aspect of accessibility in relation to social media is formatting. For social media, this means how you lay out your posts and tweets using spaces, tabs, and hard returns. Because most social media platforms don’t offer formatting options unless you’re writing an article on LinkedIn, some users will find ways to manipulate their content to achieve the formatted look they want.
This kind of “forced formatting” is commonly seen in tweets where the author has used multiple spaces, tabs, and hard returns to make their content appear in two columns like in the below example.
The tweet looks like it’s in two columns. However, the blue arrows between the columns show that tabs were used to create this forced formatting. A screen reader would follow the path of the blue arrows because there’s no true gutter—the space between properly formatted columns—in the tweet that tells it to do otherwise. Therefore, the content gets read out of order and make little to no sense.
Until platforms add formatting options, you should compose your social media content knowing it will be read left to right or right to left in a single column by assistive devices and programs.
In addition to spaces, tabs, and hard returns, assistive devices rely on punctuation marks and capital letters to identify individual words, phrases, and sentences.
If you're more informal with your copy and tend to forgo punctuation like commas and periods, your content could sound like a run-on sentence because nothing would be telling a screen reader to pause.
You should also be aware of how you use capital letters. Some internet users will type in studly case to indicate mocking sarcasm. Studly case is when you alternate every letter between uppercase and lowercase. It's also known as varied case or SpongeBob case due to a popular meme featuring the Nickelodeon character of the same name. An example of SpongeBob case is shown below.
The varied letter case makes it exceptionally hard for a screen reader to figure out how to properly read the words. Some people will even use numbers in place of letters, like zero instead of the letter O or five instead of the letter S, adding even more confusion to a screen reader user’s experience.
Want to learn a little more about how things like hashtags, formatting, and different icons can impact your content? Check out the links below!