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Threads won't replace Twitter

The internet has been booming following the launch of Meta’s new “Threads” app designed for microblogging. 


Threads launched amid the turbulent takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk, who has stepped down as CEO of the company. Musk has implemented controversial changes to Twitter and underwent ethical scrutiny regarding censorship and content moderation policy on the platform. He has faced pushback for temporarily suspending the Twitter accounts of reporters assigned to cover him as well as his inaction to moderate the content of controversial online figures. News and politics aside, Musk has also made changes to the way Twitter functions for everybody. Most famously he has changed the way users get their accounts verified on the platform. Before Musk purchased Twitter, users had to apply for verification and were approved based on noteworthiness. Musk’s most recent change to Twitter has been one that affects the entire platform. Musk introduced rate limits to Twitter, meaning users could only view a finite number of tweets per day. Users were limited to viewing 600 tweets per day unless they paid for Twitter Blue, Twitter’s monthly subscription service, which allowed for more. 


These changes have caused some Twitter users to look for alternative platforms for microblogging. Many took to platforms such as Mastodon, Post.News and Bluesky. However, many users found these apps to be confusing, as they are decentralized platforms. They were not adopted by enough users to pose a legitimate threat to Twitter. 


Enter Threads; This new app hoped to be a viable replacement for Twitter by succeeding where other microblogging alternatives failed. Threads is a new app under Meta, the company that already runs Facebook and Instagram. Threads allows users to port their Instagram accounts (username, profile pic and bio) to Threads for an instantly complete bio. Users can also instantly follow anyone on Threads that they follow on Instagram for an instantly populated feed of people they’re familiar with. Users can even pre-follow the people they follow on Instagram who haven’t signed up for Threads yet. Threads took away the painstaking hurdle of setting up a new account. With Threads you have an instant following, profile and feed that you conceivably want to see. 


This ease of access caused users to flock Threads. Even users uninvested in the Twitter drama popped in simply to see what the fuss was about. The launch was widely considered successful. The platform has boasted about surpassing 100 million sign ups. A platform that addressed people’s biggest criticisms of Twitter had finally arrived. Threads had no rate limits and modest content moderation. Surely an app made by an experienced and popular social media company that addresses the biggest problems people have with Twitter can become the new microblogging king? To the dismay of many, that has not been the case. The Instagram users who had taken advantage of the easy account setup stopped using the platform after the first few days. Mark Zuckerberg had been boasting about 100 million signups but neglecting to address the factor that makes a social media platform successful: retaining users. 


According to Google Trends, search traffic for Threads has dipped down back below Twitter’s. This would reflect my personal experience with Threads. I signed up for Threads on the first day it launched and was delighted to see people I knew already in my feed. I was excited for this potential because I follow more people that I know IRL on Instagram than on Twitter. As someone who never got to experience the golden age of Facebook, I was intrigued by the concept. The first few days I had the “Facebook experience.” My feed was a mix of text and image posts from IRL friends/acquaintances as well as content from popular accounts I follow on Instagram. After that, content engagement from IRL friends began to drop off until my feed was entirely large accounts, similar to my feed on Twitter with the exception of one big thing: news and politics. 


News and politics are a huge part of the Twitter ecosystem. According to Pew Research Center, 25% of U.S. adults use Twitter as of 2020. Of that percentage, 15% regularly consume news on the platform. If Threads were to replace Twitter, it would need to meaningfully service this demographic. Twitters’ “digital town square” style leans into news and politics through its explore tab. In this section of the website users can explore trending posts based on different topics. This makes it easy to find the news that everybody’s talking about. In Threads, there’s no explore tab. There’s not even a section to search for posts. Threads makes it difficult to find people the user isn’t already following. This diminishes its utility. 


According to the head of Instagram (and de-facto head of Threads) Adam Mosseri, Threads ignoring news and politics is the feature and not the bug. Mosseri posted a Thread explaining that the platform would not be doing anything to encourage news and politics. He says it’s just not worth it. Mosseri’s opinion is also likely informed by seeing how troublesome moderating political content has been on both Twitter and Facebook. If news and politics are not encouraged on the platform there will be less need to moderate content. This plays into the branding of Threads as a happier and less controversial Twitter. Despite this, many major news outlets have active Threads accounts. Even after everything Threads has done to position itself as a viable microblogging platform, usage plummeted by 70% just a few weeks after its launch. 


Threads has embraced its branding of being a “less angry Twitter” so strongly that it’s ignoring a significant demographic of microbloggers who will be needed to sustain the platform in the long term. News and information are significant reasons for online information consumption. Until Threads realizes that it will continue to live in Twitter’s shadow regardless of what Elon Musk does.

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Tags: #socialmedia #twitter #facebook #elonmusk #markzuckerberg #meta #instagram #threads


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