Researchers warned that Twitter's vaguely-worded plan to charge third parties for access to its platform data could undermine important studies on how misinformation, bullying and other malicious activities spread online.
Twitter released pricing information and many academics have confirmed that their fears were justified. They claim that Twitter's new paywall is not only 'outrageously' expensive, but also severely restricts data access, so that the little that researchers can view, even at the highest tier, cannot be used for rigorous research.
Twitter, who has cut a large part of its Public Relations team under Elon Musk's leadership, responded automatically to a comment request with an email that contained a poop-emoji.
In an open message this week, the Coalition for Independent Technology Research, a group that represents dozens of researchers, civil society groups, and other organizations, said that free and open access Twitter data had historically enabled systematic and large-scale research into social media's impact on public health initiatives and foreign propaganda. It also allowed for political discourse and the bots and spam Musk blamed for ruining Twitter.
Researchers said that Twitter's new tiered system of access undermines this. The pricing of the company, which was launched last week and starts at $100 for a "basic" amount of data does not offer enough for the users on the lower end. Meanwhile, the higher end is 'between $42,000 and $210,000 per monthly [and] unaffordable to researchers', the letter stated.
Users are limited to only 10,000 tweets per day. The letter stated that this represents only 0.3% of the data researchers were able to collect on a daily basis.
The letter went on to say that even at the highest 'enterprise tier', which costs upwards of $2 million a month, Twitter offers only a fraction as many tweets as it did in the past. Researchers could access 10% of Twitter's 1 billion tweets per month by paying $500 a monthly.
The researchers wrote that 'the most costly Enterprise tier' would reduce this by 80%, at a cost of 400 times as much'.
The letter said that asking researchers to pay orders-of-magnitude more for access that is only a fifth as good as they had before would be a barrier to transparency and accountability.
The letter stated that 'under the new pricing plans it will be impossible to study the communications and interactions even of a small group of people, such as the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, or the 705 members of the European parliament'. The new pricing plans also will end at least 75 long-term initiatives, such as dashboards, code packages, or tools that support journalists, educators, first responders, and Twitter users.