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Twitter is giving researchers and developers access to a dedicated dataset covering real-time public conversations around the coronavirus pandemic. The social networking giant is launching a new COVID-19 endpoint as part of its Twitter Developer Labs program, which launched last year to enable developers to test and preview new API-based Twitter features before they are made more broadly available.

The launch comes as countries and companies around the world search for new technology-based solutions to managing the pandemic, which have included coronavirus contact tracing apps, crowdsourced symptom tracking tools, and extensive efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 misinformation through platforms such as Facebook.

Twitter’s new API endpoint will essentially channel tens of millions of COVID-19 related tweets toward approved developers and research groups, who may use the data to surface insights and identify trends to develop new tools and resources to address the crisis. This could involve researching how the disease spreads by identifying keywords in tweets, investigating how misinformation goes viral, creating new emergency response technologies, and developing machine learning and big data technologies to answer myriad questions around the public’s perception of COVID-19.

It’s too early to say what kind of specific developments will emerge from this, but the data could perhaps be used to build new applications that show, for example, how conspiracy theories relating to 5G and COVID-19 are spreading, which may be useful in terms of allocating resources to fact-based public health campaigns.

This move mirrors other COVID-19 initiatives in the tech industry designed to harness big data, which has seen Google release location data to show if coronavirus lockdowns are working, while Facebook published maps of COVID-19 symptoms as reported by its users on a county-by-county basis in the U.S.

Twitter has created a standalone application form for developers and researchers looking to access the endpoint, and the company is quick to stress that it will only consider applications that are looking to “support the public good,” according to a blog post, and which sufficiently address concerns related to privacy and ethics.


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