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Nieman Journalism Lab shuts down Twitter bot ‘Fuego’

The decision to close the Twitter feed comes after the social platform began charging for its API.

The decision to close the Twitter feed comes after the social platform began charging for its API.

The Twitter profile of the Nieman Journalism Lab's aggregation robot Fuego. (Graphic by The Desk)
The Twitter profile of the Nieman Journalism Lab’s aggregation robot Fuego. (Graphic by The Desk)

Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab has shut down a Twitter robot that aggregated tweets and links from journalists, technologists and other digital-savvy users, the organization announced on Monday.

The decision to shut down the robot, called Fuego, came after Twitter recently enacted a strategy to charge thousands of dollars for access to its application programming interface (API). Officials at the Nieman Lab said Twitter wanted to charge Harvard more than $42,000 for access to its API, which was needed to keep Fuego going.

“We will, unsurprisingly, not be paying,” Joshua Benton, the founder of the Nieman Lab, wrote on Monday. “And with that, Fuego joins the tens of thousands — likely hundreds of thousands! — of projects killed by [Twitter owner Elon] Musk.”

Benton said Fuego began as a way for those interested in media and related topics to follow the most-discussed stories from a single account, which he called “an alternate interface for your network,” and the kind of thing Twitter’s API was intended to enable from the start.

“If you read every single tweet posted by a group of digital-media-savvy people — for an hour, a day, or a week — what are the links you’d see most often? And what are people saying about them?” Benton wrote, explaining Fuego’s purpose. “The old rules let us do it for free; now, Musk wants to charge us $42,000 a month.”

Benton said the world will “somehow survive the loss of Fuego,” but the closure of the robotic Twitter feed proves “you can no longer depend on Twitter for anything.”

“Building something [on Twitter] is like building on sand, and you never know when the next wave will come rolling in,” Benton complained.

In February, Twitter’s freshman owner and CEO Elon Musk claimed the website’s API was being “abused badly right now by [robot] scammers and opinion manipulators,” warning that “there’s no verification process or cost, so [it is] easy to spin up 100,000 bots to do bad things.”

Musk suggested charging around $100 a month for API access and verifying the real-world identities of the people and groups who want to tap into Twitter’s firehose “will clean things up greatly.”

It hasn’t happened. The website is still plagued by robots who promote cryptocurrency, entertain financial offers for helping a user increase their following count and spread misinformation through the platform.

Despite this, Twitter remains firm in charging individuals and organizations who want to build software and tools for the social media platform. The “small package” enables developers to implement 50,000 search requests against 50 million tweets for $42,000 per month — this is, apparently, the package that the Nieman Lab and Harvard needed to continue operating Fuego. A “medium package” allows for doubles the number of search results against 100 million tweets for $125,000 per month. The “large package” allows 500,000 search requests against 200 million tweets for $210,000 per month.

The prices are much higher than what Twitter charged researchers and developers for access to its API prior to Musk’s takeover last October. In 2018, the price of Twitter’s “premium” API access was around $2,900.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).