Last week, Twitter said it is shutting down free access to its APIs starting February 9. Now, days before the deadline, Elon Musk said that after getting feedback from developers, Twitter will provide a write-only API for “bots providing good content that is free.”
This decision is as opaque as some of the other policy decisions under Musk’s management. There is no information on what constitutes “good content” and who will decide that. However, if Twitter ends up implementing this rule, some bots will get a new lifeline on the social network.
Previously, Twitter shuttered API access to third-party clients saying they broke a “long-standing rule” without any specification. Then the company silently updated its developer terms to reflect that apps can’t “use or access the Licensed Materials to create or attempt to create a substitute or similar service or product to the Twitter Applications.”
Following the announcement, a lot of developers who made fun of bots criticized the decision, saying that their automation provided free content to people and in turn enhanced the services. Last week, BuzzFeed interviewed several bot developers who were unhappy with the decision. These include @_restaurant_bot which tweets random photos of restaurants and @_weather_bot_which tweets images of different places with weather updates.
At the moment, it’s not clear if accounts like @BigTechAlert, which tweets about big tech execs and organizations following and unfollowing each other, will be eligible for this free tier as they might need to scan account information.
Darius Kazemi, a developer who has made over 80 bots and even organized a bot devs summit in 2016, told TechCrunch over a call that these automated accounts have been an integral part of Twitter for years. He said that some of these bots with thousands of followers bring joy to many people daily.
He mentioned that it would be costly to maintain these bots that are providing free content to the platform.
“I have more than 80 bots on Twitter so it would take me several thousand dollars to keep them up every year and I can’t afford that kind of money,” he said.
Musk has been trying to generate more revenue for Twitter with moves like a new costly subscription plan and ramping up ad money. He also plans to show ads in replies to share revenue with creators. While the details on how this will work are thin, the Twitter CEO said that only Blue Subscribers can earn this money. So it’s likely that content bots won’t earn money even if ads are displayed on their accounts or in replies below their tweets.
Twitter’s free API discontinuation doesn’t just affect bot developers. There are tons of student developers and hate speech or misinformation researchers who might not have a budget to pay a monthly fee. Twitter’s v2 API had special access for academics but that might not be the case under the new API rules.
Developers have also pointed out that a lot of bots spreading spam don’t actually use the official API. So the company’s intention to shut down free APIs to weed out spam might not work well.