Study finds more than 100 research projects studying X, formerly Twitter, affected by changes by Elon Musk, amidst misinformation criticism
More than 100 studies focusing on X, formerly Twitter, have been cancelled, suspended or changed due to changes by owner Elon Musk to limit researchers’ access to the platform, according to a new study carried out by the Coalition for Independent Technology Research on behalf of Reuters.
The report comes after Travis Brown, a software developer based in Berlin, said last week he was suing X over the termination of his account, which followed his research findings that he said showed a widespread far-right influence on the platform.
The coalition’s study, based on a survey of 167 academic and civil society researchers in September, quantifies a trend that critics say is silencing research into X and making it difficult to track how the platform can be used to spread misinformation ahead of multiple elections around the world set for 2024.
A majority of respondents, 104 out of 167, said they feared being sued by X after the company in July sued the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) over critical reports about the platform’s content moderation.
X in July said 99 percent of users’ content views are of “healthy” posts, attributing the figures to estimates from software partner Sprinklr.
Sprinklr declined to confirm the figures to Reuters and said any recent external reporting prepared by X had been “done without Sprinklr’s involvement”.
The coalition found 30 cancelled projects, 47 that were stalled and 27 where researchers had changed the focus to another platform.
Another 47 projects were ongoing, but researchers said their ability to collect fresh data was limited.
One of the stalled projects had planned to study child safety on X. The platform was recently finedby an Australian regulator for failing to cooperate with a probe into anti-child abuse practices.
Before Musk took over last October X offered researchers a free API allowing access to a large number of posts, but it now offers three paid tiers from $100 (£81) to $42,000 per month, with researchers saying the lowest-priced tier offers less data than was previously available for free.
Reuters said nearly all the researchers it had spoken with said they could not afford the API costs, while a majority said the API changes were the reason for cancelling or pausing their projects.
The EU is investigating X under new rules that took effect in August, called the Digital Services Act, which require large platforms to allow qualified researchers to access publicly available data, amongst other terms.
Software developer Brown, a former Twitter employee who left the company in 2015, said last week he was suing X in a court in Berlin over the termination of his account, which he claimed was a result of publishing findings of extensive far-right presence on X since Musk took over.
X justified the account closure to a court in September saying that Brown had violated its terms of service in the way he had collected his data.