As of February 9, Twitter will no longer allow public access to its application programming interfaces (APIs). Elon Musk has announced that Twitter will offer a write-only API for “bots providing good content that is free,” thanks to developer feedback. This announcement comes just days before the deadline.
In the same vein as other policy decisions made by Musk’s administration, this one is also mysterious. How or who will decide what counts as “good content” is not specified. In the event that Twitter does adopt this policy, however, it will provide a new opportunity for some bots to thrive on the platform.
Twitter previously cut off API access for third-party clients, claiming they violated a “long-standing rule” without providing details. The Twitter Applications may not be copied, imitated, or replaced in whole or in part, and applications may not “use or access the Licensed Materials to create or attempt to create a substitute or similar service or product to the Twitter Applications.”
After the news broke, many programmers who joked about bots voiced their disapproval, arguing that the decision was unfair because their automation allowed them to offer valuable content to users for free. A week ago, Buzzfeed spoke with several disgruntled bot developers about the decision they had made. The @ restaurant bot tweets pictures of restaurants at random, and the @ weather bot_ tweets pictures of various locations along with weather reports.
At this time it is unclear whether or not accounts that tweet about major tech executives and organisations following and unfollowing each other, like @BigTechAlert, will be able to access this free tier without first scanning account information.
Over the phone, Darius Kazemi, a developer who has created over eighty bots and even organized a bot devs summit in 2016, told TechCrunch that these automated accounts have been a staple of Twitter for years. According to him, many people’s days are brightened by some of these bots with thousands of followers.
He warned that it could get pricey to support the automated users who are contributing content to the site for free. “I have more than 80 bots on Twitter, so it would take me several thousand dollars every year to keep them up and I can’t afford that kind of money,” he said.
Musk has been working to increase Twitter’s income by taking measures such as introducing a more expensive subscription plan and increasing ad spending. In addition, he intends to monetize creator responses by displaying ads. The CEO of Twitter has stated that only Blue Subscribers will be able to earn this money, but has provided few specifics on how this will be implemented. Even if advertisements are displayed on content bot accounts or in replies below their tweets, it is highly unlikely that the bots will generate any revenue.
The removal of Twitter’s free API will impact more than just the bot community. Lots of people who study issues of hate speech and disinformation are students, and they may not be able to afford the monthly fee. Academics had preferential treatment in Twitter’s v2 API, but this may not continue under the new guidelines.
It has been brought to the attention of developers that many spam bots are not using the standard API. Because of this, the company’s plan to disable its free API in an effort to reduce spam may not be successful.