Bots can make Twitter a better place to be. Now Elon Musk wants to decide which ones are ‘good’

February 6, 2023, 5:02 PM UTC
Elon Musk in August 2022
Jordan Vonderhaar—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Happy Monday. My name is David Meyer and I’m going to be regularly writing the Data Sheet lead essay, so, pleased to meet you. A bit about me: I’m a South African who’s lived in Berlin for 11 years and was in the U.K. for 13 years before that; I’ve been a tech journalist for most of my career; and I also front an alternative-rock band called The Board, so expect the odd musical reference here and there. Right, then—on with the show!

Twitter bots get a bad rap sometimes, which is understandable, given that many of these automated accounts were created to spew spam, manipulate opinion, and/or harass people. Their prevalence on the platform also makes it difficult to establish just how many of Twitter’s accounts represent real people, as owner and CEO Elon Musk repeatedly mentioned during last year’s tempestuous takeover.

They’re not all bad, though. Some bots publish urgently useful information about things like earthquakes. Others extend the functionality of Twitter itself, like the self-explanatory Thread Reader App. There are bots for cheering people up and opening their eyes to the universe around them, bots that let people anonymously confess their dark deeds, and bots that monitor lawmakers’ attempts to massage their images. In short, bots and their creators are a big part of what makes Twitter interesting, meaningful, and weird.

Musk being Musk, this situation needed shaking up. Last Wednesday, Twitter announced it would—with just a week’s notice—end free access to its application programming interface (API). That meant external developers and researchers would have to pay between $149 and $2,499 a month to plug their services or research programs into Twitter’s systems, either to make automated tweets or to read and analyze Twitter data. The makers of prominent Twitter bots began saying their goodbyes.

But wait! Over the weekend, Musk tweeted that “responding to feedback, Twitter will enable a light, write-only API for bots providing good content that is free.”

On the plus side, being responsive to criticism is a good thing. However, Musk and his team really ought to have known better before making last week’s announcement, the downsides of which were obvious to anyone familiar with the different types of actors on Twitter and the many ways in which people use the service. Musk may have claimed he was trying to introduce more friction for “bot scammers and opinion manipulators,” but the undifferentiated demand for payment was a slap in the face for enthusiasts who have invested considerable time and effort in making Twitter a worthwhile experience. 

Its partial reversal was also characteristically chaotic. “What is a ‘light, write-only API’?” tweeted Luca Hammer, a developer whose free FediFinder service—which helps people move to rival network Mastodon by identifying which of the people they follow on Twitter are also active there—will be scuppered by the shift. “What is ‘good content,’ and will there be humans to check each piece of content from bots if it’s good enough?”

These are good questions, particularly the latter. I’m old enough to remember when Musk was all about free speech and leveling the playing field. Now, by design or otherwise, he has dragged his company into the business of deciding which content is good or bad. For a lean organization with an overworked CEO, that seems like a heck of a task to be taking on.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

David Meyer

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


Ready, set, launch. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is preparing to send Starship, its next-generation reusable rocket, for its first orbital test, which may happen this month. But it could be a rocky year for the spacecraft company since private investment in space has dropped sharply from its $47.4 billion peak in 2021, falling 58% in 2022, according to a report by an investment firm focused on space-based tech. And aside from possible investment woes, South Texans have put SpaceX under fire over the company’s tests causing explosions, beach closures, and potential harm to endangered species. 

Home run for face recognition. Stadiums and concert venues are ramping up their use of facial recognition technology to reduce ticket scalping and steer crowds into events more easily. But the biometric economy has run into controversy because of the way the tech is being used at Citi Field, Madison Square Garden, and airports. As Wired reports, it can easily be turned into a device for policing, a reality that troubles digital rights groups who say that the algorithms in these tools have been shown to have racial and gender biases. 

Time for a résumé update, Class of 2022. As some recent grads experience dashed hopes for a career in Big Tech amid layoffs and hiring freezes, Amazon has taken a move that could revive some people’s dreams. The company is limiting its lowest software development engineering position to current students or newly graduated applicants. An internal memo revealed the change came near the end of January and that exceptions require the approval of a VP or higher. Insider reports that Amazon may be targeting younger engineers who will accept lower pay than those with years of experience. 

Double trouble. Plays on Instagram Reels have doubled over the past year, but it could spell trouble for Meta. That’s because Reels draw attention away from Instagram and Facebook feeds, where the company gets its highest ad dollars. And as Meta wrestles with how to pay creators, they are reporting fluctuating payments. Fortune talked to multiple creators who are earning between $0 to $6,000 per month.


WFH is due for upgrades. Property developers and designers have remote workers in mind as they construct new apartments, ensuring tenants have everything they need to get to work and make appearances in Zoom meetings, according to a report by Fortune’s Steve Mollman. It comes as U.S. rent prices are expected to rise further this year. It’s been predicted that year-over-year rental price growth will jump from 5.8% in June 2022, to 8.4% in May 2023. That includes perks and amenities like natural lighting, desk space, and coworking units. Office space, meanwhile, faces abandonment.

From the article:

At Slack, a subsidiary of San Francisco–based Salesforce, chief of staff Robby Kwok said last month the occupancy rate at some Salesforce offices is “still well below 20%” and “some of them are below 10%.” He added, “It’s really hard to justify having all of that space.”


Is ChatGPT making life easier for con artists? by Jeremy Kahn

Tech CEO Bryan Johnson is spending millions to be 18 again, but a longevity expert says his ‘heroic discipline’ is unsustainable, by Alexa Mikhail

Silvergate at center of DOJ fraud investigation for hosting FTX and Alameda accounts, by Ben Weiss

Employers are suffering from ‘pandemic paranoia’ and they’re scared to let go of workers, according to a global staffing firm, by Will Daniel

They shared their layoff heartbreak on LinkedIn. Then it went viral, by Jane Thier

Elon Musk takes a victory lap after dodging billions in potential damages from a high-profile Tesla investor suit: ‘The wisdom of the people has prevailed,’ by Verne Kopytoff

Millennials are relying on parents to pay the bills, by Chloe Berger


Check my technique for scoring Beyoncé tickets. Her award for best dance/electronic album last night cemented her record 32 Grammy wins. If you want to hear Renaissance live, presale ticket sales start today for cardholders with a Citi debit or credit card. Not a Citi cardholder? Fortune’s Ivana Pino walks you through how to become one and shares what other issuers to turn to for similar rewards.

This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet