So Threads, Meta’s Twitter alternative that has been making the rounds on the Web as a faint rumor since late last year, is now available in app and Web form in the United States and 100 other countries. It’s not released in Europe yet – Meta probably has to deal with GDPR and the Digital Market Act before going forward – but it’s already making waves because, well, it actually matters. Anything that the Facebook and Instagram company does will inevitably affect the social networks space through sheer numbers alone and these can make a difference in this particular case: new Threads users log in with their Instagram accounts (so millions of people don’t even need to create an account in order to play with the service and get a sense of it) and, while it’s clear that it’s very much a work-in-progress, it’s quite functional.
And just like that, in the span of one week, there’s an alternative to Twitter that can scale effortlessly – unlike e.g. Mastodon or BlueSky – and gain traction way faster than any new social network would.
It’s no secret that Zuckerberg and his lieutenants chose to launch a Twitter competitor at this point in time because Twitter itself is floundering. The service has gone through a lot, on multiple levels, ever since Elon Musk took over and a very big part of the Twitter community is clearly displeased with all the drama, the toxicity, the technical problems, the arbitrary shifts in policy… with everything, really.
Others may have enjoyed the ride because Musk enforced changes to their liking – or they just seem to support any choice Musk makes by default, as many have done in the past – but the fact that Twitter has seen better days is not up for debate. If it was, there’d be at least one metric other than Musk’s increased follower count to back that up. There is none.
What may prove to be even more problematic, though, is the fact that Threads looks like a questionable “solution” to the “problem” it is supposed to “solve”. Twitter has lost its way, yes. Musk’s terrible management has angered millions of users without actually achieving anything, yes. There’s no clear path forward for Twitter in terms of financial stability and balanced moderation without numerous re-adjustments, yes.
But having millions of disgruntled Twitter users migrate to a Twitter-like service owned by the same company that runs two of the remaining three current dominant social networks is not exactly ideal. Not only is this kind of consolidation – done on such a scale – cause for concern under any circumstances, but it’s also being attempted by Meta: a company that made a lot of inexcusably bad choices in the past and one that puts profit above all else.
This, the drive for profit above all else, is the type of thinking that should not be followed by any service striving to become “the Internet’s town square” or, as even Meta puts it, “a place where real-time updates happen and public conversation is held in a positive manner”. If Threads succeeds in becoming a strong Twitter alternative – it has already attracted over 30 million users within its first day of availability – but it is run in the same way e.g. Facebook is run, it will not become what Twitter was before Musk ruined it. Not really.
What it will essentially be, is a more text-heavy version of Instagram that’s storing vast amounts of personal data, one that encourages more time spent on its timeline browsing than on commenting, one where the all-seeing algorithm will more or less determine the kind of value delivered to each user. One that is ultimately built with monetization, not expression of opinions, in mind.
Twitter was the last great Internet equalizer between everyday people, journalists, communication professionals, individuals of fame, persons of power and everything in between. All one had to do in order to attract attention and express opinions that lead to useful discourse was be interesting, be consistent and contribute to the timeline in a way that’s meaningful.
Threads does not look like it was built to nurture that kind of interaction or that kind of community. It looks like a product built as an answer to a question that different people form in different ways in their minds right now, all the while conforming to the kind of thinking not us seasoned Twitter users, but Mark Zuckerberg likes to follow. There’s always a chance that Threads will be gradually shaped into something else if its users make their wishes and needs perfectly clear to Meta… as long as those do not clash with Zuckerberg’s business model, that is.
There’s no telling how Threads will fare over the next few months – it’s just too early to tell how committed Meta truly is – and there’s no telling how its presence will affect Twitter (if at all). But Zuckerberg and his executives are not the right people to offer a social network with Twitter’s previous usefulness or gravitas.
At best, Thread will end up being a third Meta social network that’s algorithmically printing money for an already disproportionally influential company and its owner. At worst, it will end up being an experiment that doesn’t work as an actual Twitter replacement, hitting a ceiling after the first couple of years make that clear. That’s not what the Internet needed in either case. Can we have something similar to pre-Musk Twitter, please? Or even Twitter reverted to the pre-Musk way of doing things? Some of us would even be willing to pay for blue checks. For that.