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Twitter risks alienating developers with everything from emergency alerts to Taylor Swift lyrics.

Dan Morse is unsure what to do with his popular Twitter account, @would it dong, a Twitter bot with over 179,000 followers that measures the distance of home runs and determines whether they would be considered home runs in other major league ballparks.

Morse is one of many developers in limbo after Twitter announced last week that it would begin charging people like him to automate accounts on the platform. While the term “bot” conjures up images of nefarious state-based disinformation campaigns, many bots, such as Morse’s, are labours of love that generate no revenue.

People have approached Morse and suggested that he try to raise funds for the account, but he has no desire to do so.

“I’d much rather not have to pay for this bot,” Morse said.

Twitter’s API, or application programming interface, was changed for the first time on Thursday, when the developer account tweeted that access would no longer be free. The same account also stated that pricing for a tiered payment system will be made available on Thursday.

A viral screenshot of an older pricing structure sparked outrage, outrage, and resignation among developers.

Some expressed their concerns directly to Twitter’s owner and CEO, Elon Musk, who stated that the current API was being abused by “bot scammers and opinion manipulators.” Musk responded two days later, saying he would change the new rules in response to concerns raised by an account that tracks the movements of a cat.

“In response to feedback, Twitter will enable a light, write-only API for bots providing good, free content,” Musk tweeted on Saturday. While this is a welcome relief, the ambiguity of “good content” still leaves many in the dark.

Many automated accounts rely on Twitter’s API to function, which allows a developer to write a programme that interacts with the platform automatically. Twitter launched its API in 2006, inviting developers to create bots that users might enjoy.

Developers have now created a diverse set of accounts that publish everything from emergency alerts to Taylor Swift lyrics. Many of the developers and groups behind those accounts have stated that charging for API access may prevent them from maintaining their bots.
“If this change is implemented, we will no longer be able to serve emergency notifications via Twitter,” tweeted Cumberland Goodwill EMS, which serves a population of over 63,000 people in central Pennsylvania.

Bill Snitzer, the Los Angeles-based developer behind the EQBOT service, which provides earthquake information for the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas as well as global earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 5.0, stated that each of his service’s five bots has its own Twitter page and following. Snitzer was able to monetize his services by earning a small commission via an Amazon affiliate link. However, he described the API pricing as a “slap in the face.”

“This is the dissemination of critical information that could potentially vanish,” said Snitzer, who created the bots over a decade ago. “I’m being forced to pay the money, which I don’t like. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable, ethical quandary.”
Researchers benefit from free API access to vital data. Sol Messing, an associate professor at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics, said his research relies heavily on the Twitter API to collect data on how social media platforms are used. Messing anticipates that Twitter’s API pricing will have a significant impact on his projects, slowing research and complicating collaboration with other research groups.

“You really need third-party analysis on social media platforms to protect society,” Messing said.

The nonpartisan Coalition for Independent Technology Research issued a letter on Monday morning urging Twitter to “ensure that APIs for studying public content on the platform remain easily accessible.”

Both Morse and Snitzer have discussed moving their services from Twitter to Mastodon, a decentralised social network site, but neither has taken the plunge.

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