Twitter announced Tuesday that a major change in the type of data it will make is freely available to third-party academic researchers interested in studying user behavior and trends related to online discourse. Twitter said it would no longer require researchers to pay for advanced or enterprise developers, but would instead provide a “full history of public conversations” — what the company calls a full archived search interface for tweets — to any research applying to start a new academic program personnel.
The change is part of an ongoing effort by Twitter to improve its API, part of a toolset that enables outsiders to build content on Twitter or conduct research using large amounts of data. Last year, Twitter also rolled out a revamped API to revise the developer and research community, which has been at odds with the platform over the years in terms of product development and other issues. The contentious relationship first began in 2012, when Twitter decided to cut off primary access to the platform with developers in order to strictly control the use of data by potential competitors.
Twitter acknowledges that its relationship with the developer and research community is not ideal. “Our open platform doesn’t always give researchers easy access to the data they need, forcing many to resort to multiple tactics to find the right information. Still, researchers have been using Twitter data for more than a decade to explore and innovation to help make the world a better place,” wrote product managers Adam Tornes and Leanne Trujillo in a blog post.
Tornes and Trujillo point to steps Twitter has taken over the past year to improve the problem. These include the free release of APIs on epidemic topics, and the opening of beta versions of new academic research topics. Meanwhile, Twitter is trying to convince researchers that they can help, especially with misinformation, election interference, hate speech, and other topics that are likely to be trending on social media today.
In addition to opening its public archives, Twitter said it offers approved applicants a higher monthly tweet volume of 10 million tweets, which is 20 times higher than the previous standard free version. It also allows for more precise filtering and provides “guidelines for new techniques and methods” to help researchers make better use of relevant data.
Interested academics and developers can apply for new academic research topics on the company’s open platform, Twitter said. However, there should be some limitations. Access is currently open primarily to independent researchers or journalists, or must be a student or member of an academic institution. Twitter also said it will no longer provide access to data from accounts that have been suspended or banned, as it could complicate research on hate speech, misinformation and other types of conversations that violate Twitter’s rules.
It also means that the @realDonaldTrump account is also inaccessible through Twitter’s archives after widespread disparaging of Trump by US social media sites.