May 19, 2024

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Twitter aims to fuel research, tools that combat hate speech and other woes

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Twitter plans to unveil a revamped API next week.


Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Twitter on Thursday said it plans to release new tools for developers that could make it easier for them create a variety of features and apps to combat hate speech, help businesses better understand their customers and users find information more quickly.

The company expects to launch a new version of its application programming interface next week. The new API was originally scheduled to be introduced on Thursday, but the company delayed the release after hackers took control of the accounts of high-profile users including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former President Barack Obama to tweet out a bitcoin scam. A Twitter spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company hasn’t found any evidence that the incident involved the company’s API but the Twitter is prioritizing the safety and security of its users over launching the new tools. 

An API allows two pieces of software to interact with one another, making it possible for developers to build new apps, features and bots through the use of Twitter’s public data. 

Academic researchers have also used the social network’s data to understand what users are saying about COVID-19, learn more about hate speech and analyze topics such as climate change. Developers have tried tackling Twitter’s harassment problem by creating an app that can filter out users who are more likely to send you unwanted tweets. There are social media management tools and bots on the site that will share drawings and combine emojis.

Developers have had a hand in some of Twitter’s early features, building the mobile app and a search engine for the site. More than 10 million developers have used Twitter’s API to build new tools but the social network envisions that its partners will do more.

Twitter last year started allowing users to hide replies to their tweets, a feature that could help cut down on hateful comments or spam. Hiding replies, though, can be a tedious process. 

“Part of our hope with making the API available, is that developers can build tools that help scale that kind of behavior and even let people for instance like use an algorithm or build some rules that would hide replies for them automatically so they don’t see hateful speech,” said Ian Cairns, who oversees product for Twitter’s developer platform, during a virtual press conference. 

But the company has also had a complicated relationship with developers. Twitter revoked API access by Politiwoops, which tracks deleted tweets from politicians, in 2015 only to restore it months later. The company has also upset other developers by restricting access to Twitter data numerous times in the past including in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, which raised privacy concerns about social networks. 

The revamped API will include new features such as conversation threading, poll results in tweets, pinned Tweets on profiles and spam filtering. The company also said it built a new foundation for the API for the first time since 2012, which allows Twitter to add more features more quickly. Twitter also said it will be easier for developers to create new apps more quickly through the API because it redesigned an online portal and plans to introduce a separate “product tracks” for businesses and academic research.

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