Social media represents an invaluable resource for those studying the impact of the pandemic. It provides a vast, rich and global data set of real-time conversations on the topic. However, social media data is a core commercial asset for the social media companies and typically one that is guarded and monetised.

However, as part of a range of measures addressing Covid-19 issues, Twitter has announced that it will allow permissioned access to researchers and developers to a Covid-19 streaming endpoint. The endpoint will give access to real-time Tweets that are relevant to Covid 19; many 10s of million Tweets a day Twitter estimates. Access will be free: “Making this access available for free is one of the most unique and valuable things Twitter can do as the world comes together to protect our communities and seek answers to pressing challenges.”

For researchers and scientists this data set can help track the spread of the virus and its impact on people. For policy makers it reveals the public mood, how we are dealing with lock-down and could be invaluable in crisis management and shaping policy that will actually be complied with. It also reveals what harmful disinformation (fake news) may be gaining unhelpful traction. The data set is huge and Twitter is hoping that access will assist developers working on machine learning and data tools that can help the scientific community answer key questions about COVID-19.

With the big tech companies under scrutiny and a focus on market dominance and online harms, this is a welcome opportunity for Twitter to demonstrate the good that social media can do. As Jack Dorsey puts it “Public conversation can help the world learn faster, solve problems better and realize we’re all in this together. Facing a devastating global pandemic really brings that, and Twitter’s role, to light.”

Joanna Conway & Oriana Williams 

If you would like information on managing your social media risks, please contact our digital content risk team