From Tech Policy Press
By Emma Lurie
Platform researchers are living through a strange moment– a pseudo-post-API age. On the one hand, there is no need to convince anyone–in Washington, Brussels, or even Silicon Valley–that using platform data to understand the relationship between social media and society is of the utmost importance. Yet, we keep losing tools that facilitate social media researcher data access. At the time of writing, the Twitter Academic API is on life-support and Meta’s CrowdTangle is not far behind it.
And then, in February 2023, the long promised TikTok API was released. It was an exciting announcement for those struggling to do large-scale research on TikTok, but researchers quickly identified provisions that troubled them in terms of service.
The TikTok saga serves as a reminder that researchers need to build independent infrastructure to study platform content. We cannot depend on platforms’ tenuous interests in transparency, or trust that platforms will continue to feel the political pressure to engage in transparency theater campaigns. At the same time, it is also true that platform-mediated APIs can provide secure, accessible, large-scale and legal access to platform data. And there is cautious optimism in the research community that this mode of data access will continue as proposed bills in the U.S. Congress and the requirements of the E.U.’s Digital Services Act seek to strengthen platform-mediated data access for researchers...
Emma Lurie is a Ph.D. Candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Information. Her research interests include online election information, U.S. technology policy, and research ethics for computer science.