Tech
Social Media

National Weather Service accounts were not granted API exemptions by Twitter

Public safety accounts will still be limited unless they pay up for Twitter API access.
By Matt Binder  on 
Twitter Weather
According to the National Weather Service, Twitter is not planning to exempt is public service emergency weather alert accounts from the platform's new limited API rules. Credit: Bob Al-Greene

On Friday and throughout the weekend, multiple National Weather Service (NWS) accounts announced that Twitter had removed their API access, which would disrupt crucial potentially life-saving automated emergency updates. The move came as Twitter prepares to transition its currently free API service to a paid subscription model starting at an exorbitant $42,000 per month for Enterprise access.

Twitter users were immediately outraged by the decision. Many advocated for the company to make exemptions for important public service accounts, like the NWS, which provides vital alerts during extreme weather events. Then, suddenly, a few verified "breaking news" Twitter accounts shared an update: Twitter had reversed course. Elon Musk and company was going to make that exception for NWS accounts and allow them access to the API without limits. Media outlets like CNN(opens in a new tab) quickly covered Twitter's apparent change of heart. Twitter users were jubilant over the news.

Only, it's not true.

Mashable reached out to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce which runs the National Weather Service, to confirm the unofficial reports that have spread on the platform.

"Twitter informed NWS there are no plans for exemptions," National Weather Service Director of Public Affairs Susan Buchanan told Mashable in a statement. 

Mashable connected with the NWS once more to confirm again and Buchanann reiterated in a separate email that the statement is accurate. As of now, Twitter has said it will not provide API exceptions for the NWS and has not provided the agency with any further official communication on the matter.

As proof of the change, some Twitter users shared a tweet from the NWS's Tsunami Alerts account, which announced on early Sunday morning that its API access was restored. But according to the NWS, Twitter only restored temporary API access via the company's old API plans, which Twitter is planning to sunset in a few weeks. Also, the restoration only affected some NWS accounts, with others still currently unable to post automated weather alerts. As of publication, the NWS said that it still expects the Tsunami Alerts system, along with any other NWS accounts with API access, to lose that access in a few weeks when Twitter says it will fully switch to its new API plans.

"While some of these accounts were reinstated over the weekend, some remained suspended this morning," the NWS said. "None of those accounts had exceeded Twitter's new API limit."

The spread of unconfirmed reports

It appears that the report(opens in a new tab) that Twitter was making an exemption for NWS accounts originated with a Twitter account that goes by the name "T(w)itter Daily News." 

"NEWS: Twitter will allow the National Weather Service accounts to continue Tweeting weather alerts without limits," the account tweeted on Saturday night. "Great Job @TwitterDev."

Other media outlets and "breaking news" Twitter accounts seem to have then run with that tweet as the official update. In CNN's report, the media organization even attributed that tweet directly to Twitter.

However, that account is not an official Twitter account. The account handle is actually @TitterDaily – Twitter without the "W." The reason for that is because Twitter does not allow users to create usernames with the word "Twitter" in it. Usernames that include the word "Twitter" are solely reserved for official company accounts.

The @TitterDaily account is verified with a blue checkmark. But, that's because the account pays for Twitter Blue, the Musk-created Twitter service that allows any user to pay $8 per month in order to receive a verification badge.

In reality, @TitterDaily is just a fan-run account created by a longtime supporter of Musk and Tesla. Musk did recently follow the account and subscribe to it via the platform's Subscription service. Mashable reached out to Twitter to find out if there was any truth to these reported exemptions, perhaps communicated to @TitterDaily from someone at the company. However, Twitter no longer responds to requests from the press. In addition, as told to Mashable multiple times, Twitter explicitly said to NWS that there would be no exemptions and there has been no communication that NWS has received since that says otherwise as of Tuesday, April 18.

How Twitter's new API rules will affect public safety accounts

The NWS tells Mashable that Twitter's API policy changes will limit its accounts to 50 automated tweets per 24-hour period. It expects that Twitter will officially switch its accounts to the new API limits on April 29, based on what the company has previously communicated(opens in a new tab) to developers.

"Since 2014, NWS has used Twitter’s API service to auto-post the latest warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods to Twitter feeds that are followed by emergency managers, the media, and people in the path of dangerous weather," the NWS said in its statement. 

With Twitter's new limits, the NWS will be unable to tell which automated emergency alerts go through and which don't get posted. This will make the NWS Twitter accounts unreliable during weather emergencies.

"For every warning issued, seconds could make the difference between life and death," the statement reads, explaining how the automated emergency alert posts have an advantage over the forecasters who also tweet from the accounts.

And it isn't just NWS accounts that have been affected. 

Twitter's API changes threaten(opens in a new tab) various public transportation accounts from being able to share up-to-the-minute information on the platform. At @TitterDaily's urging, earthquake tracking accounts like @LastQuake(opens in a new tab) and weather services like Instant Weather(opens in a new tab) in Canada have spent the past few days asking followers to plead with Twitter and Musk to provide these seemingly non-existent API exemptions to their accounts as well.

As for the National Weather Service, the agency seems prepared to do its best under Twitter's new free API limits. Twitter does provide a $100 per month per account API plan, but the company itself describes this subscription tier as being for "hobbyists" or "students." After that, the next paid API option from Twitter is the $42,000 per month Enterprise plan. As of now, it does not appear that the National Weather Service is prepared to pay for such access.

The NWS tells Mashable that Twitter's users should not depend on NWS Twitter accounts for the "most current information for forecasts, watches, and warnings." 

"We advise people to have multiple ways to receive weather forecasts including weather.gov(opens in a new tab)," the NWS said.

The full statement provided to Mashable from the National Weather Service can be read below:

Twitter announced a policy change to its Application Programming Interface (API) service that will limit the number of automated tweets to 50 per 24-hour period. When implemented, this change would affect National Weather Service Twitter accounts that auto-tweet more than the new limit. Since 2014, NWS has used Twitter’s API service to auto-post the latest warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods to Twitter feeds that are followed by emergency managers, the media, and people in the path of dangerous weather.

Without this automated process, it would take minutes for forecasters to manually prepare warning information into a tweet. For every warning issued, seconds could make the difference between life and death. Communications via social media is a supplemental service to extend the reach of weather forecasts and information. Twitter feeds do not always reflect the most current information for forecasts, watches, and warnings, and we advise people to have multiple ways to receive weather forecasts including weather.gov(opens in a new tab). Twitter informed NWS there are no plans for exemptions.

From media reports, we anticipate the new API limits to become effective on April 29, 2023. However, a new issue emerged when several of our API accounts were suspended on Friday, April 14. While some of these accounts were reinstated over the weekend, some remained suspended this morning. None of those accounts had exceeded Twitter's new API limit. Those, and all other NWS accounts, can still manually issue tweets but will face the challenge of timing and staff capacity that the automated tweets do not face.  


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