Twitter’s API access will now come at a price, but the real cost will be transparency and accountability. Citizen watchdogs, grassroots movements, and independent researchers now face an additional barrier to freely reporting on issues like public health risks, natural disasters, disinformation, and online violence.
(SAN FRANCISCO, U.S | WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2023) — Twitter’s latest development to curtail its public-facing API access under a paywall is yet another blow to improving transparency of powerful internet platforms. Since Elon Musk's acquisition, Twitter has faced a surge in disinformation, hate speech, racial slurs, and more, making research into the platform all the more important.
Says Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s Vice President, Global Advocacy, “Twitter’s plan to put a paywall on its public-facing API is a sinister move to muzzle the watchdog protecting public interest. The API is a vital tool for researchers who work to combat election disinformation, improve safety during natural disasters, push for police reform, and advance social justice movements. A paywall on the API means sacrificing our society’s ability to hold powerful entities accountable.”
Twitter’s plan to put a paywall on its public-facing API is a sinister move to muzzle the watchdog protecting public interest. The API is a vital tool for researchers who work to combat election disinformation, improve safety during natural disasters, push for police reform, and advance social justice movements. A paywall on the API means sacrificing our society’s ability to hold powerful entities accountable.
Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s Vice President, Global Advocacy
One example of how Twitter’s API has been used to impactful effect is how Mozilla Researcher Odanga Madung used it to show how disinformation easily spreads through underground disinformation-for-hire groups in Kenya, and in other cases, used by powerful actors to discredit public officials advocating for reproductive health rights.
With the public-facing API set to be hidden behind a paywall, Mozilla is concerned about the devastating consequences of shrouding transparency. This move should also serve as an alarm bell to EU regulators for the implementation of the Digital Services Act requiring large platforms to allow independent public interest researchers access data to assess their systemic risks and compliance efforts.
Here are a number of initiatives Mozilla is actively supporting in advocating for public resources enhancing transparency:
- Supporting citizen watchdogs, grassroots movements, and independent researchers. Mozilla is part of a huge community of journalists, researchers, and activists calling on Twitter to reverse their decision. In an open letter published February 6, 2023, alongside hundreds of allies, we condemned Twitter’s actions against transparency and called on the company to reverse course. The Coalition for Independent Technology Research, which Mozilla helped to initiate, is also organizing mutual aid for researchers whose work will be significantly affected by this change.
- Mozilla’s interventions for transparency have never been so crucial and urgent. We’ve called on policymakers to require social media platforms to share data with independent researchers. The bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), which we support, would mandate transparency and provide a safe harbor for researchers. We have also authored an expansive guide on moving towards responsible recommender systems, which underlines the importance of reliable researcher access to platform data.
Tracy Kariuki: [email protected]
Patrick Kowalczyk: [email protected]