or years, Twitter, like other social media platforms, has freely given its platform data to independent researchers so that they can analyze everything from online trolling to the spread of misinformation. Those studies have been critical to understanding the tactics used by scammers, foreign influence campaigns and other malicious actors trying to manipulate social media.
But now researchers fear the future of that work is under threat, after Twitter abruptly announced plans last week to restrict access to this data and charge money for it.
The plan provided few details before it was delayed Wednesday amid a public backlash, but the company nonetheless intends to move forward with it. Twitter now says it will end free access to its application programming interface, or API, the software enabling third parties to tap into Twitter’s systems, on Feb. 13, and plans to replace it with paid access starting at $100 a month for “basic access” granting a “low level of API usage.”
Such a change would chill civic research on Twitter manipulation and have devastating consequences for transparency, accountability and the public good, said Rebekah Tromble, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics.
“It’s just abundantly clear that the impact is going to be profound on the research community, profound on civil society organizations that rely on free access to the API in order to provide a vitally important public service,” Tromble told CNN. “Twitter essentially has gone, in a blink of an eye, from being an industry leader in transparency to the bottom of the barrel.”
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