Twitter's upcoming tools aim to fuel research, fight hate speech

A new application programming interface could help developers create useful new features, but it's been delayed following a security incident.

Queenie Wong Former Senior Writer
Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
Expertise I've been writing about social media since 2015 but have previously covered politics, crime and education. I also have a degree in studio art. Credentials
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Queenie Wong
3 min read

Twitter plans to unveil a revamped API next week.

Graphic by Pixabay; illustration by CNET

Twitter said Thursday that it plans to release new tools for developers that could make it easier to create a variety of features and apps to combat hate speech, help businesses better understand customers, and help 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 Thursday, but Twitter 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 that Twitter is prioritizing the safety and security of its users when it comes to the launch of the new tools. 

An API lets two pieces of software interact with each other, making it possible for developers to build new apps, features and bots that use Twitter's public data. 

Academic researchers have also used the social network's data to understand what users are saying about the coronavirus, 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'll share drawings and combine emojis.

Outside 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 letting users 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, ... use an algorithm or build some rules that would hide replies for them automatically so they don't see hateful speech," Ian Cairns, who oversees product for Twitter's developer platform, said during a virtual press conference. 

But the company has also had a complicated relationship with developers. In 2015, Twitter revoked API access for Politiwoops, which tracks deleted tweets from politicians, only to restore it months later. The company has also upset other developers numerous times by restricting access to Twitter data, 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. Twitter also said it built a new foundation for the API for the first time since 2012, which allows the company to add more features more quickly. Twitter also said it'll be easier for developers to create new apps faster through the API because the company redesigned an online portal and plans to introduce separate "product tracks" for businesses and for academic research.