Twitter’s plan to charge for crucial tool prompts outcry

Twitter’s plan to charge for crucial tool prompts outcry

Twitter’s plan to charge for crucial tool prompts outcry

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, thousands of volunteer software developers have been using a crucial Twitter tool to comb the platform for calls for help, including from people trapped in collapsed buildings, and connect people with rescue organizations.

They could soon lose access unless they pay Twitter a monthly fee of at least $100, prohibitive for many volunteers and nonprofits on shoestring budgets.

“That’s not just for rescue efforts which unfortunately we’re coming to the end of, but for logistics planning too as people go to Twitter to broadcast their needs,” said Sedat Kapanoğlu, the founder of Ekşi Sözlük, Türkiye’s popular social platform, who has been advising some of the volunteers in their efforts.

Nonprofits, researchers and others need the tool, known as the API, or Application Programming Interface, to analyze Twitter data because the sheer amount of information makes it impossible for a human to go through by hand.

Kapanoğlu says hundreds of “good Samaritans” have been giving out their own, premium paid API access keys (Twitter already offered a paid version with more features) for use in the rescue efforts. But he says this isn’t “sustainable or the right way” to do this. It might even be against Twitter’s rules.

The loss of free API access means an added challenge for the thousands of developers in Türkiye and beyond who are working around the clock to harness Twitter’s unique, open ecosystem for disaster relief.

“For Turkish coders working with Twitter API for disaster monitoring purposes, this is particularly worrying, and I’d imagine it is similarly worrying for others around the world that are using Twitter data to monitor emergencies and politically contested events,” said Akın Ünver, a professor of international relations at Özyeğin University in Istanbul.

The new fees are just the latest complication for programmers, academics and others trying to use the API, and they say communicating with anyone at the company has become essentially impossible since Elon Musk took over.

Twitter had originally planned to introduce the changes last week, but delayed it until Feb. 13. On Feb. 13, the company tweeted that it was delaying the launch again “by a few more days,” without providing more details.

The API paywall is Musk’s latest attempt to squeeze revenue out of Twitter, which is on the hook for about $1 billion in yearly interest payments from the billionaire’s acquisition, completed in October.

It’s not just disaster relief groups that are concerned. Academic and non-governmental researchers for years have used Twitter to study the spread of misinformation and hate speech or research public health or how people behave online.

It costs money to maintain an API. As a private company, Twitter is free to charge for its tools. But researchers and developers say it wouldn’t take much for Musk to carve out exceptions for academic research and nonprofits.

“No other technology has changed society as quickly and as profoundly as social media. Having access to the thoughts and emotions of other people worldwide, that’s a fundamental change to society,” said Kristina Lerman, a computer science professor at the University of Southern California who studies misinformation. “And you can’t understand it without access to data, access to observe.”

So far, San Francisco-based Twitter has offered no other exceptions, although it’s possible that Musk will see one of the many tweets from developers working on earthquake relief who have been pleading for a solution.