a lot has been written about Elon Musk’s bid to acquire Twitter, an effort that, despite substantial backing from Morgan Stanley and approval from Twitter’s board of directors, is in an insecure position today.
Reports and experts have focused on the security implications of the proposed acquisition, as well as Musk’s potential approaches to content moderation and, on a related topic, his understanding of the concept of “free speech.” But another consequential aspect of the deal has received far less attention: how Twitter’s data access policy for research might change under the Musk regime.
Twitter hasn’t always had a comfortable relationship with investigators. However, in recent years, the social network has come a long way in providing access to its files at a time when rivals have taken the opposite step. In January 2021, Twitter claimed that academic researchers were one of the largest groups using its API.
Some researchers worry that Musk does not share the same commitment to open access to data, particularly considering the virulence he has shown in the past towards reports that paint his companies (including Tesla) in an unflattering light.
Until now, Twitter has been unique among the major platforms in making data available to researchers. david grand
In 2018, Musk vowed to create a website to rate the “core truth” of articles and journalists in response to reports about accidents involving Tesla cars, Tesla labor issues, and its relationship with Wall Street, but ultimately failed to do so. made.
Mor Naaman, a data science professor at Cornell Tech, envisions a future in which Musk becomes hostile toward researchers who expose Twitter’s “challenges and shortcomings.”
“I am pessimistic that Twitter will continue to fight for accountability as a private company under Musk,” Naaman, who has worked with Twitter data since 2009, told TechCrunch by email. “I don’t think research like the one we’ve done on [former President Donald Trump’s] Stop the Steal campaign, and the data we collected from Twitter and made available to other researchers, used in 12 different documents since last year, would be allowed under Musk. Second, I can’t imagine that the internal teams that examine company systems for ethics and bias are still doing well, let alone publishing their findings publicly.
“If they continue to publish, it will be much harder for these publications to overcome the already existing suspicion about the pro-business biased nature of the platforms that publish their own research papers.”
Among other promises, Musk has said he plans to “defeat spam bots” on Twitter, apparently alluding to malicious accounts that repeat misinformation and perpetuate scams. But not all bots are harmful, Orestis Papakyriakopoulos, a postdoctoral researcher at the MIT Media Lab, told TechCrunch via email.