Twitter’s latest bad idea will kill vital research and fun bot accounts

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Elon Musk has long claimed Twitter suffers from a major bot problem. But his latest attempt to fix the dubious issue has many critics worried about the collateral damage. On Thursday, the social media platform’s official developer account announced the company will no longer offer free access to its application program interface, or API, beginning on February 9. Third-party users and developers have long relied on data obtained through the Twitter API for research projects, information dissemination, as well as popular generative text and image bots. 

“While Twitter has long charged researchers to access older tweets, the ability to use a robust and researcher-friendly API to scrape Twitter data was a fantastic resource,” recounts Matthew Hannah, an assistant professor of digital humanities at Purdue University.

Hannah explains he previously utilized automated API tools to track Twitter conversations regarding trending topics like the QAnon movement for his own work. The platform’s research-friendly interface proved “incredibly useful” for teaching students how to understand and work with Twitter data in the classroom, he added. “I fear that is now a thing of the past,” he says.

Another unfortunate byproduct to Musk’s latest disruption to the online Twitter ecosystem will be the deaths of many positive bot projects that have for years provided users with entertainment and creative content. Cameron Ezell, creator of a bot that tweeted random screenshots from King of the Hill to its 78,000 followers every 30 minutes, confirmed via the account on Thursday that its tenure on Twitter would cease next week. “I hope Twitter changes course between now and then, but if not you can follow another version of this account over on Mastodon,” Ezell said via the “King of the Hill Screens” account.

“It’s really shameful and is going to take away a lot of the joy people get from using Twitter,” Ezell writes to PopSci. “When people follow a stupid account like [mine], it’s just because it makes their timeline a little more interesting… [it] just drives home the point that this is going to make people spend less time on Twitter.”

Ezell isn’t alone in migrating their project to the decentralized social media platform. Others such as Mark Sample’s “Moby Dick at Sea” and “ClipArt1994” accounts, are also planning Mastodon transfers.

“In the darkest times on Twitter, these accounts often brought a spark of joy and humor, and this decision betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about what makes Twitter enjoyable for so many,” Hannah also argues.

Since assuming control of Twitter in October 2022, multiple reports indicate Musk has consistently struggled to generate reliable revenue streams through the social media platform. Although Twitter subsequently mentioned that a “paid basic tier will be available instead,” the specifics remain unknown as to what that could entail. On Wednesday, Musk claimed Twitter’s free API is “abused badly right now” by “bot scammers & opinion manipulators,” and lamented the lack of verification process or fees. “Just ~$100/month for API access with ID verification will clean things up greatly,” he concluded.

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