Meta released its hotly anticipated Twitter copycat, Threads, yesterday, moving the app’s release up from Thursday morning to early evening on Wednesday night. According to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 10 million users flocked to the app in its first few hours. Things on Threads were, to be frank, pretty boring. Ironically, that could be the secret to Threads’ success. On a chaotic internet fueled by outrage, dull may be what users and advertisers want.
Users arrived on Threads to find their feeds filled with the kinds of posts you’d see on an earlier and totally unremarkable day on Twitter. Mark Cuban pretended to be a normal guy, Jake Paul tried to drum up lazy engagement with cash giveaways, and regular people used their first posts to make predictable jokes. There were none of the naked pictures of Alf you’ll find Bluesky. The app’s CEO wasn’t tweeting out casual racism. It hasn’t fomented an insurrection. You didn’t see any of the catastrophic technical failures Elon Musk can’t seem to avoid and always swears are on purpose. People logged on, typed out a few things, and scrolled around for a while. Most probably left without seeing anything memorable. All Meta has to do to crush Twitter is provide a safe and stable alternative where you can make your dumb little posts and get likes from your followers. So far, it’s working. Threads is pure banality.
Lately, Mark, Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have been joking about having a cage fight over their upcoming business battle (seriously). But make no mistake: this war is real. Zuckerberg is an obsessively competitive man who has a long history of success in stealing other people’s ideas. If Threads can get around some headwinds, the app has major advantages that could pave the way for Meta’s victory and Twitter’s disaster. Meta and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.
“Twitter is severely wounded and Meta’s Threads could deliver another major blow. Twitter users are desperate for an alternative, and Musk has given Zuckerberg an opening,” said Jasmine Enberg, a Principal Social Media Analyst at Insider Intelligence. “Threads doesn’t need to attract all of Twitter’s power users to damage Twitter further. Meta only needs roughly one in four Instagram users to use Threads monthly to make it as big as Twitter. Meta already has the scale, resources, and execution strategy to make that happen.”
Threads’ biggest advantage is that it’s built on Instagram. (In fact, its official title is “Threads, an Instagram app.”) The color scheme of the loopy logo is the same. Threads users keep their Instagram usernames, for better or worse. But more importantly, you can automatically connect with all your Instagram friends and followers with a single tap. That’s a big deal. New social media apps struggle because of the time and effort it takes to build communities. Harnessing Instagram’s two billion-strong user network clears a path for early success.
Meanwhile, Twitter can’t stop tripping over its shoe laces. Over the weekend, Twitter made the astonishing decision to temporarily limit the number of posts users are allowed to see. The company said the move was an effort to fight spam and bots, though IT experts said its far more likely the rate limiting was a response to a technical crisis in Twitter’s systems. Whatever the reason, the outage was an yet another ill-timed blow to a large number of Twitter users who’ve grown increasingly unhappy with Elon Musk’s tenure — and that’s to say nothing of the Neo-Nazis, skyrocketing hate speech, transphobia, and other nastiness that’s giving Tweeters a wandering eye.
Users aren’t the only one’s unhappy with the recent scene on Twitter. Far more significant, at least in the short term, is the mass exodus of advertisers. Internal forecasts at Twitter reportedly say the company’s ad sales have plunged an eye-watering 59% since this time last year, despite Musk’s insistence that everything is fine, actually, thanks for asking.
Threads, on the other hand, seems poised for an immediate financial advantage. Meta’s early promotional screenshots of the app featured a user talking about a local business, and according to industry insiders, advertising and e-commerce customers are primed to jump. Threads also abides by Instagram’s terms of service, which are stricter than Twitter’s, barring nudity, for example. In one of the few noticeable features differentiating Threads from Twitter, hashtags don’t allow users to browse topics on the Meta-owned app.
“With the design of Threads, it’s anticipated that the platform will be more brand-centric and welcoming. Compared to Twitter’s environment, which seems chaotically run and not very brand safe, Threads is expected to provide a cleaner, more controlled platform for brands,” said Damian Rollison, Director of Market Insights at SOCi, a marketing technology platform. “Facebook and Instagram have built strong ties with businesses of all sizes, which should translate to smoother onboarding of brands onto Threads.”
Advertising revenue isn’t exactly a zero sum game. Any company with a huge marketing budget wants to get their ads wherever there’s attention to be had, so Twitter and Meta aren’t necessarily competing for the same dollars. On the other hand, advertising follows trends just like the rest of the market, and they’re often attracted to shiny new opportunities. If Threads can offer a secure venue to put ads in front of eyeballs, advertisers may be even more reluctant to work with Twitter going forward.
Threads does have some major issues to contend with, and a decade-long bad reputation for the company is chief among them. The public hasn’t exactly forgiven Meta, formerly known as Facebook, for its revolutionary work in spying on you and turning the data into cash. Threads, like Instagram and Facebook, will almost certainly use ad dollars as its primary source of revenue. All indications suggest the company’s famously disquieting data practices will continue.
According to disclosures in the Apple App Store, Threads will collect data including health and financial information, location data, browsing history, contacts and a lot more. That’s not to say Twitter is a privacy protecting alternative; the app collects much of the exact same information in the same ways. But as Twitter users survey the field of alternatives, and there are many, the prospect of giving Zuck more precious data isn’t a selling point.
“For those seeking an honest platform to share news and engage in public debate, Threads will never be it,” said Kyle Morse, Deputy Executive Director of the Tech Oversight Project.
Anyone who has watched Mark Zuckerberg’s various painful dances in front of Congress knows data isn’t the man’s only reputational problem.
“People are right to be angry about Twitter’s disgusting and dangerous lurch to extreme right-wing ideology and its quickly disintegrating user experience, but putting faith in another Mark Zuckerberg-led social media platform is a recipe for disaster,” Morse added.
But Meta has an even bigger issue brewing in Europe. Threads is now available in the US and the UK, but it is not, however, operating in the EU.
That’s likely because of a recent ruling in Europe’s high court that came down on July 4th, just one day before Threads’ debut. The gist, essentially, is the EU decided a company like Meta isn’t allowed to share information between its various apps, track people across the internet, or send data to the United States. You will not read a more boring but impactful fact for the rest of the day. This is a disaster for Meta, a company thats entire business model is built on collating data across various services, particularly its own.
It’s a blow to Threads in particular, because if the app can’t harness Instagram’s network, it loses its key advantage. It’s unclear when or if Threads will launch in Europe at all. That’s significant, given the fact that the EU’s population is almost double the size of the US.
“It’s a big deal and I don’t think they’re going to be able to get around it. If you told me that nobody from Europe could be on Twitter it would be a much less interesting product,” said Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a publishing trade group. “On the other hand, the best argument for Threads isn’t Instagram’s dominance but Twitter’s erratic behavior under its new ownership. I wouldn’t call Threads an instant winner, but it’s not an instant loser either.”
Threads isn’t the only “Twitter killer” on the market. Shortly after the start of Musk’s reign, another Twitter-like service called Mastodon saw an explosion in popularity. Mastodon still has its adherents, but its star isn’t shining so bright these days. Today, the reigning champ for Twitter expats is Bluesky, an app founded with help from Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey. Thanks to hype and a radically progressive approach to algorithms and content moderation, Bluesky is the defacto hangout for internet cool kids.
Given the Zuckerberg connection, Threads faces an uphill battle if it wants to look hip. But if Facebook’s history is any indication, you don’t have to be cool to crush the competition, because the coolest thing that happens on social media is when a lot of people see your posts. If Threads can secure and maintain the biggest share of users, it could be in a position to leave Bluesky, Mastodon, and other Twitter clones behind. But, as Insider’s Jasmine Enberg points out, social media isn’t necessarily winner take all.
“I’m not totally giving up on BlueSky yet. The intrigue is fading and the novelty may wear off once it becomes more broadly available, but it’s unlikely that Threads is going to be an exact substitute for Twitter,” Enberg said. “The culture on Twitter and Meta’s platforms is very different, and BlueSky could still be a venue for Twitter users looking for a more Twitter-like experience. I could see two, or more, platforms carving out space in Twitter’s territory.”
The first twelve hours of Threads was a strange starting gun in a race that was weird before it opened. Two near-identical apps run by cartoonishly eccentric billionaires are now fighting to be your favorite place to get annoyed online. Not only that, but people seem not just positive but enthusiastic about Zuckerberg’s effort, despite his decade as one of the most hated men in America. No matter Threads’ fate, Elon Musk has already done what Meta’s tens of millions of dollars worth of PR spin never could: turn Mark Zuckerberg into an almost likable figure, one that people are kind of rooting for.