The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Democrats fear Musk may retaliate against Twitter researchers

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Friday! Not to cause bad blood, but I’m having a hard time shaking off your Taylor Swift puns. (Oops, look what you made me do.)

🚨 Breaking this morning: The Federal Communications Commission’s long-awaited updated broadband maps are live. Spot any notable trends? Let us know:

Below: Democratic senators call on the FTC to investigate Elon Musk’s deal to acquire Twitter, and House investigators say misled the IRS. First:

Democrats fear Musk may retaliate against Twitter researchers

Democratic lawmakers and academics are calling on Elon Musk to commit to keeping Twitter data open to outside researchers, citing concerns that his cuts to key teams and firings of critics could foreshadow broader crackdowns against external scrutiny. 

Two House Democrats on Friday called on Musk to reaffirm that the platform will still “enable researcher access to data available for the foreseeable future” in a letter shared exclusively with The Technology 202. 

After first launching his bid to buy Twitter in April, Musk said one of his goals was to boost transparency on the platform, including by making its algorithms “open source” and making any actions the company takes against individual posts more “apparent” to users.

In their letter to Musk, Reps. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) said the mogul’s layoffs and product changes since taking over Twitter “run contrary to these promises.”

Social media researchers have sounded the alarm about major cuts inside Twitter, including to its Machine Learning, Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability team, which served as an internal watchdog and helped lead research and transparency efforts. 

Lawmakers also asked Musk to “commit to not retaliating” against researchers who publish studies digging into how his takeover of Twitter has impacted the site.

Zeve Sanderson, founding executive director of New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics, said a recent pattern of “retaliatory” behavior by Musk has sparked concern that he could try to quash studies into what he called “the Musk effect on Twitter.” 

Musk could undercut scrutiny more subtly instead by not funding teams that help provide outside groups with data via its application programming interface, or API, researchers said.

“There still could be the case that under Musk there's now either fewer people supporting the academic API or fewer people supporting the API all together,” said NYU research scientist Megan Brown

Twitter, which recently gutted its communications team, did not immediately return a request for comment early Friday. 

Twitter, Sanderson and Brown said, has long been an industry leader when it comes to researcher access — but could backslide if Musk wavers on his pledges. 

“They’ve really been … ahead of the pack of other platforms,” said Brown, including by having ample “direct support staff that researchers could contact.”

The company in September created the Twitter Moderation Research Consortium, a program allowing outside researchers, academics and journalists to tap into its data to study trends. Washington Post reporters recently analyzed Twitter data on China- and Iran-linked political influence operations by enrolling in the consortium late last month. 

The fate of the consortium now appears unclear. Yoel Roth, the former Twitter head of safety who announced the program, abruptly resigned last week along with other executives.

Sanderson and Brown said they have yet to notice any changes to their access to Twitter data since Musk took over, but that they are on high alert for any shifts. 

The lawmakers said they rely on outside research to inform legislation and oversight.

“As policymakers, we depend on independent academic research and insights from civil society to understand digital services, their technical affordances and safety policies, and their impact on public health, free expression, and national security,” wrote Trahan and Casten, who in February introduced legislation to create a new federal transparency watchdog.

While officials in Europe have passed regulations requiring platforms to open up more data to outside researchers, parallel efforts in the United States have languished. Musk has said he will comply with local platform regulations.

Lawmakers and academics are also concerned that Musk’s breakneck push to drive up revenue and expand subscriptions could price out some researchers. 

In their letter, Trahan and Casten asked Musk whether he expects pricing for outside access to data to change and how he will “ensure that prices do not make access prohibitive.” 

Sanderson said he fears any pricing hikes could serve as a barrier to entry for researchers who are less funded. 

“This especially matters when it comes to access and equity within academia,” he said.

The lawmakers said they are seeking answers by Dec. 2 from Musk, who has at times bluntly brushed off congressional inquiries

Our top tabs

FTC should investigate whether Musk violated Twitter agreement, Democratic senators say

In a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, the senators called on the FTC to “vigorously” enforce its agreement with Twitter and investigate whether Twitter violated the agreement or consumer protection laws.  The seven signatories of the letter included Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who leads the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection panel, as well as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Khan’s former employer, the Open Markets Institute, also encouraged Khan to investigate the deal. In a letter addressed to Khan, Justice Department antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter and Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, the group said that Twitter should be considered a public utility, Bloomberg News reported. The letter also argued that federal regulators have “ample authority” to review Musk’s deal to acquire the company.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. FTC spokesman Douglas Farrar told Bloomberg News that the agency received the letter, but he declined to comment on it. The FCC and Justice Department didn’t respond to the outlet’s requests for comment.

Dozens of state AGs ask FTC to consider stronger data security rules

A bipartisan group of 33 state attorneys general told the FTC that private firms’ practices of collection of location data, biometric data and medical data poses risks to consumers, and that the FTC should look to some states that require that businesses limit the personal data that they collect. The attorneys general wrote that they’re “concerned about the alarming amount of sensitive consumer data that is amassed, manipulated, and monetized.”

The letter came in the final days before an agency deadline for comments on an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for commercial surveillance and data security. 

House investigators say misled the IRS

The House Oversight Committee and select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis found that identity verification company misled the IRS about the wait times that taxpayers were experiencing. Investigators weren’t able to substantiate chief executive Blake Hall’s claim that Americans “lost more than $400 billion to fraudulent” pandemic unemployment claims, CyberScoop’s Tonya Riley reports. House lawmakers launched the probe in April amid concerns about’s accuracy, delays and errors. chief communications officer Terry Neal told CyberScoop in a statement that the company has hired more people to reduce wait times and that it disputes criticism of its pandemic fraud claims, which it said was “premature.” The company “worked tirelessly to serve Americans who needed aid, and we regret the long wait times that individuals endured while we fought to clear fraud out of the system,” Neal said. “This situation was short-lived and temporary and caused by historic fraud.”

Rant and rave

Twitter couldn’t stop talking about a new bankruptcy filing by FTX CEO John Ray III. Reporter Eric Wallerstein:

Editor James Palmer:

Our colleague, Taylor Lorenz, commented on FTX news more generally:

Inside the industry

TikTok to sell books directly to users via marketplace (The Guardian)

Masayoshi Son owes $4.7 billion to SoftBank following tech rout (Financial Times)

Facebook cannot comply with EU data protection laws, civil liberty council says (Irish Times)

Workforce report

Hundreds said to have opted to leave Twitter over Musk ultimatum (Joseph Menn, Nitasha Tiku and Faiz Siddiqui)

Hill happenings

Democrats debut bill updating accessibility requirements for streaming, AI and video conferencing (Gizmodo)


‘I caught lightning in a bottle. I will be one of the last people to leave Twitter.’ (Politico Magazine)

Before you log off

Thats all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to The Technology 202 here. Get in touch with tips, feedback or greetings on Twitter or email