After putting its API behind a paywall, Twitter is now reversing course and making an exception for aid and transportation agencies — some of which have already left the platform.
In a tweet sent from the Twitter Dev account on Tuesday, the platform says that “verified government departments or public services that tweet weather alerts, transportation updates, and emergency alerts” can continue to use the API for free. What exactly the company means by “verified” is unclear. Does it only apply if the agency has enabled a new “verified” account and do they have to pay to get ticks on sub-accounts that may require API access?
We already started to see the effects of these API changes last month when several emergency and transport accounts started experiencing issues posting alerts on the platform. While some National Weather Service (NWS) accounts were suspended without explanation from Twitter, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) also experienced disruptions to their API access.
These issues came to a head last week when the MTA completely shut down its bus and train warnings on Twitter, noting that “Twitter is no longer reliable for delivering the consistent updates riders expect.” Instead, it encouraged riders to sign up for text and email alerts or use the mta.info site. We don’t know if the MTA has any plans to return to the platform now that API has rolled back its API rules and the agency didn’t immediately respond to The edgerequest for comment.
Other affected services, including the NWS, the United States Geologic Service, and the US Forest Service, similarly alerted users to other ways users can receive real-time alerts, but never left the platform. BART spokesman James Allison also said at the time that the agency would continue to use Twitter while “monitoring the situation closely.”
The free version of Twitter’s API only allows users to post 1,500 automated tweets per month. Prices climb from there, with the hobbyist Basic tier costing $100 a month and a “cheap” enterprise plan reportedly going up to $42,000 a month. This setup is clearly not ideal for the many weather and transportation agencies that send out several automated tweets each day to alert users to emergencies or travel delays.