Twitter allows more researchers to access platform data

·2 min read

Earlier this year, Twitter launched the Twitter Moderation Research Consortium (TMRC), a group of experts from across academia, civil society, nongovernmental organizations and journalism dedicated to studying Twitter's platform governance issues. Previously, membership in the TMRC was limited to select trusted partners, but Twitter today began offering all researchers the chance to apply.

To be accepted into the TMRC, applicants must prove that they're affiliated with one of several eligible organizations, have prior experience for "data-driven" analysis and a specific public interest use case for the data, and use "industry-standard" systems for safeguarding their research. Those ineligible include undergraduate students, industry and government officials and groups who'd planned to share the TMRC's data with governments or other outside parties.

Twitter notes that successful applicants will be "researchers with a demonstrable history of independent research" or who've met criteria that "demonstrate an ability to be entrusted with the TMRC's data and to pursue research for a qualified purpose."

Once admitted, newly minted members of the TMRC will gain access to an archive of Twitter operations data dating back to 2018. Twitter says that it'll continue to support disclosures of data pertaining to "persistent platform manipulation campaigns" -- specifically content posted in violation of its manipulation and spam policy -- and in the future share data about other policy areas (e.g. tweets that have been labeled as potentially misleading) with all TMRC members.

"By providing academics and researchers with access to specific, granular data (not just aggregated reports), we enable them to find insights and contextualize information in a way that increases the visibility of the reports themselves," Yoel Roth, head of safety and integration at Twitter, wrote in a blog post. "Our goal is to remain transparent about the activity we identify on Twitter while addressing the considerable safety, security, and integrity challenges that come with disclosures of this kind."

To date, the TMRC has operated in a pilot capacity, sharing Twitter data with members including the Stanford Internet Observatory about accounts that the social network removed in connection with platform manipulation and state-backed information operations. In March, Twitter announced it would expand the effort somewhat by providing "targeted" Twitter usage data around the war in Ukraine with researchers for analysis.

While Twitter has pledged to practice greater transparency through projects like the TMRC, critics contend that the company has mismanaged and misrepresented its data-sharing policies in the past. In a complaint recently filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Twitter's former security chief, Peiter "Mudge" Zatko, accused the company of misleading the public on its security practices, permitting Indian government agents to access internal data and hiring employees working behalf of foreign intelligence agencies, including Saudi Arabia's.