Twitter announced that it will eliminate free API access. Users are lamenting the changes this may have on the platform's culture, while others have expressed concerns about its effects on research.

The season of Twitter shakeups isn’t over yet.

The social media platform has announced it will eliminate free API access for third-party developers. While the concept of an “API restriction” may not sound dramatic, this latest change has users once again worried about Twitter’s future. In simple terms, this means the site’s innumerable automated accounts will grind to a halt, unless the person in charge of them decides to pay for access.

It also means researchers who leverage Twitter’s API to collect public data from the site will lose a key resource – again, unless they pay.

Many of Twitter’s users are not happy about the change, as they say it will fundamentally alter the platform’s culture.

So what’s an API, anyway?

API stands for “application programming interface,” and it’s a framework that allows programs to communicate and connect with each other. In the case of a platform like Twitter, or Facebook or YouTube, this means developers outside the company can create programs that connect with the main product. Twitter’s description of its API says developers can use the feature to “moderate conversations for health and safety,” “enable creation and personal expression,” “measure and analyze what’s happening” and more.

Automated accounts are a common example of how this work appears on the platform. If you’ve ever seen an account that automatically tweets out reminders to hydrate, or random photos of possums, you’ve seen one way an API can be used. Some people have used Twitter’s API to provide accessibility options to content, like alt text or image descriptions. Others, like thread readers or reminders, can help people save and revisit information on the site.

How could restricting API access change Twitter?

Since Twitter’s announcement, many of these accounts have made forlorn announcements that they will cease working once the policy goes into effect on February 9. The Twitter Dev account noted that more details on what users could expect would come next week, while CEO Elon Musk remarked in a separate tweet that “Just ~100/month for API access with ID verification will clean” up what he said was abuse of the API.

While accounts that tweet “Lord of the Rings” quotes or make site navigation easier aren’t necessarily the backbone of the platform, users argue they contribute to the social experience that’s become a part of every day life.

APIs also allow people to create searches for publicly available data stored in a digital record, which is extremely useful for research, marketing and other purposes. Some users are concerned about what the API access changes will mean for their work.

It’s not unusual for a platform as big as Twitter to have an API that’s accessible to the public, as it provides more ways for people to use the platform – a relationship that can be beneficial for the company. Tech experts surmise that Twitter’s decision to have people pay for API access is one in a long string of moneymaking attempts since the company came under Musk’s direction.