Elon Musk wages a fight against researchers

When buying Twitter, Elon Musk promised to make the social network transparent, but now it is clear that this will have its price, writes Politico.
On Thursday, the 9th of February, the company plan to close free and unlimited access to a huge amount of data about Twitter users. This means that data scientists studying the spread of disinformation and hate speech will be denied access to the information that was available until now. The only way to continue research will be to pay for the data. The move is part of Musk’s plan to make Twitter profitable.
The shift has angered academics, infuriated lawmakers, and potentially sets Twitter against new European Union (EU) content management rules that require this kind of data to be made available to independent researchers. Rebekah Tromble, director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at George Washington University, has relied on Twitter’s API for years to monitor potentially harmful content on the Internet. She said:

«There are inequities in resources for researchers around the world. Scholars at Ivy League institutions in the United States could probably afford to pay. But there are scholars all around the world who simply will not have the resources to pay anything for access to this.»

The changes mean that Twitter deny access to an API that allowed outsiders to follow what’s happening on the platform from a broader perspective. The API gave researchers direct access to the company’s data streams and was readily available for researchers to analyze users, including detecting harmful or misleading content and fake news.
Twitter has not commented.
The changes come as the European Commission (EC) plans to publish the first report on how social networks, including Twitter, are aligning their policies with the so-called EU Anti-Disinformation Code, a voluntary agreement between EU lawmakers and big tech companies. Under it, the companies commit to principles that reduce the spread of fake content, and part of the agreement is to improve the availability of data for researchers to work with.
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton last week reminded Musk of his obligations, but there was no discussion about the planned ban on access to Twitter data.
Although EU disinformation standards are not mandatory, access to data is required by other Brussels regulations – the Digital Services Act.
Twitter has filed an initial report, and Musk has said he is committed to compliance.
US lawmakers are also pushing for changes that would improve scientists’ access to social media data after a series of scandals. Twitter’s role in organizing riots at the Capitol on the 6th of January, 2021, has sparked calls for a more serious investigation.
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