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Emily is an account manager at Affinity who specialises in writing and social media, with a keen interest in how companies can leverage good content to power their brands.
The internet is buzzing with the news that Meta has released a new social network to directly rival Twitter; Threads. Early reviews are mixed, from those hailing it as ‘Twitter without the extreme views,’ to others with concerns about privacy, data sharing and censorship.
Here’s what we know about Threads so far
Meta’s shiny new social media platform seemed to come out of left field, amassing a record number of users within just a couple of days. Striking while the iron is hot, the move from Meta isn’t a surprise.
Threads is undeniably similar to Twitter, with some slight differences. It allows you to compose messages of a maximum of 500 characters, and share links, images, and videos lasting up to five minutes but without direct messaging functionality.
Twitter users have been abandoning the app in droves following various decisions from leader Elon Musk, such as limiting the number of tweets one can read to forcing people to pay for something they already had for free.
A key difference is that the Threads feed is (currently) algorithmic, whereas Twitter gives you the option to switch between chronological-based updates from people you follow and algorithmic updates. I saw a Meta representative address this on the app this morning, and they said they are working on providing a chronological option.
Meta shared a public post explaining their vision for their text-based platform Threads, saying that it offers a “separate space for real-time updates and public conversations” and is working towards compatibility with other social networks.
The launch was expected later in the month and was eventually released a day early for users in 100 countries, except for Europe.
Signing up is easy – you simply log in via your Instagram account, which carries over your username, verification status and followers – although you can customise your profile specifically for the new app.
Removing barriers to a new platform
One of the most challenging aspects of convincing users to sign up for a new social platform is the initial lack of members and data – shouting into an empty room waiting for your friends to arrive.
In the early days of social media, I remember the painful chore of reluctantly moving from MySpace to Bebo, and then Bebo to Facebook. All of my geeky HTML layouts became useless, I couldn’t find my ‘top friends’ and new networks felt like a baron wasteland.
Although back then, half the struggle was convincing people that social media would benefit their lives in any way, and technology had a much slower rate of adoption.
Like me, social media users spend time curating their feed, building up a list of friends, blocking annoying users and building data such as images and saves. Signing up via Instagram removes a lot of this work, automatically importing people you know and blocking those you don’t want to.
Plenty of new promising social platforms over the years have come and gone, failing to sign up enough users so that people felt like there was an actual community, and consequently giving up before there was a chance to develop one.
Meta is a step ahead of the game by allowing users to sign up with their Instagram profile and automatically showing them a list of people they already know. Threads also has wide appeal across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, with users looking for a lighter app that brings their data and friends into one place.
This initial appeal is likely why, at the time of writing, a staggering 55 million users have signed up within a record amount of time. Plus, with the undeniable similarities to both Twitter and certain aspects of Instagram, navigating the app is intuitive and easy.
A potential antidote to controversy
It’s no secret that Twitter is a hive of heated debate, confrontational tweets and divided political opinions. Since Elon Musk took over Twitter in late 2022, he’s been the centre of debate around freedom of speech after he committed to providing a censorship-free platform.
I’ve long since given up on maintaining a personal Twitter account given the barrage of extreme opinions and mud-slinging between two sides on the app. It became stressful witnessing of villagers and their pitchforks, each day a new individual set to become the latest victim of trial by social media.
Whilst that is an arguably dramatic and over-simplified view of Twitter, I am not alone in holding that opinion and the platform has been haemorrhaging previously dedicated users since Musk’s takeover. It has its place, especially within the B2B environment, but for personal use, it has become undeniably more edgy and chaotic.
Zuckerberg knows that users feel this way about Twitter, Meta is pledging to create a safer, more friendly environment to minimise the sense of friction for its users. I think whilst this is a nice idea in practice, maintaining this environment takes a lot of external intervention and censorship which can pose equal challenges.
It would however be foolish and biased of me not to acknowledge what Musk’s Twitter has done for free speech, sharing of unbiased news and offering a platform for people who want to hold politicians to account, but the balance is pretty off at the moment.
So, is the grass greener on the other side? If Threads manages to get the balance between weeding out hate and racism whilst keeping it an open environment for free discussion, it could encourage even more Twitter users to escape an ever-growingly toxic environment.
Early opinions are mixed
So, what does the public think about Threads? As far as I have seen, early opinions are mixed and seem to be divided into two categories, much like Twitter itself. First up, you’ve got die-hard Twitter fans that are (to some degree, understandably) furious about an app so close in similarity.
On the other hand, you’ve got people like me who long for the old days of Twitter where logging in to the app wasn’t terrifying and we shared goofy updates and innocent opinions without worrying about being shouted at by internet folk. People are saying that it is indeed like the early days of Twitter where it was just fun to be involved in something new, fun and full of possibility.
One of the most worrying things to me, which unfortunately (as an Android user) I have only discovered after signing up for Threads, is that you cannot delete your account without also deleting Instagram. Instead, you can only deactivate your page, but your account still exists and can be reactivated. As more people find out about this, I hope they will reconsider otherwise it is going to be a barrier to new users signing up.
There are however legitimate concerns about data. Threads has been unable to launch in the EU so far over privacy concerns given the nature of sensitive information that they collect, meaning the app’s objectives may be incompatible with incoming EU regulations.
Whilst we are able to use Threads in the UK, I think their struggle to launch in the EU highlights some really important points; users should be able to opt-out or choose what data they share with Meta. TechCrunch goes into excellent detail about this, and I think it’s important everyone fully understands what sort of data is involved with using Threads, and social media platforms in general.
When IOS users were signing up for the app, they were vocal about concerns whilst reading the app’s privacy disclaimers, which disclose how your data, such as purchasing habits, location and search data, will be collected and linked to your identity – eek.
I think that users should take care when choosing what data they share on a free platform. Don’t allow the app access to anything that you wouldn’t comfortably put in the public domain, or exercise caution when you do.
Social media users are not stupid when it comes to data sharing – it’s something we are all hyper-aware of. Meta is already on the naughty step when it comes to user data collection, and how they respond to these concerns will be critical to whether the new platform is successful or not.
Before launching in EU countries, Meta will have to wait for the European Commission’s approval, and this won’t happen until they are satisfied that the app doesn’t pose a risk to an individual’s privacy.
Coming as a surprise to absolutely no one, Musk threatened to sue Meta over similarities in Threads’ offerings compared to Twitter, sending a cease-and-desist letter in under 24 hours. Big yikes.
Musk famously fired half his staff and is now accusing Meta of hiring them to aid in building Threads. The letter sent to Zuckerburg by Musk’s attorney states that ex-employees have shared inside information, using their knowledge to create a copycat app.
It’s worth remembering that Zuckerburg did try to buy Twitter twice in the early days, and has likely been quietly biding his time to see Twitter’s long-term pain points, releasing Threads at the most opportune time.
Let’s get down to business
We can debate the efficacy of this new social channel to the cows come home, but going back to our bread and butter as an agency – what about advertising opportunities?
According to The New York Times, April advertising revenue in the US on Twitter was down by 59% amid concerns that there had been a significant increase in hate speech and adult content on the platform, despite Musk assuring that almost all advertisers had returned. This raises questions about Twitter’s future profitability and its current market valuation.
As the concern for brand safety on Twitter grows, advertisers are keeping a beady eye on Threads as a viable advertising alternative, as Zuckerburg hopes to get 1 billion users on the app.
There are no opportunities for advertising on Threads as of yet. Meta’s Adam Mosseri explained on Wednesday that advertising is not a priority right now, instead, they are working on ensuring the app is a place people want to be first.
I think this is a smart move – they need to focus on user feedback above anything else right now and address privacy concerns to ensure advertising solutions are robust, and appealing to those that use them.
What happens next?
In my humble opinion, Twitter is its own worst enemy. Don’t get me wrong, Musk is a welcome disruptor in the technological sphere, a highly successful entrepreneur and a genius in his own right.
However, the platform seems so focused on reducing censorship that it isolates users who dare object to hate speech and ends up enforcing restrictive rules.
Twitter used to feel free – it felt like we were all on the verge of something revolutionary, somewhere where people could connect and everyone had a chance to be heard. Now it’s a divisive tool, often used by people with extreme views to cancel and ironically silence others using shame, to the point where it’s a platform many want to avoid.
Social media users feel in need of an alternative that gets the balance between freedom of speech and hate speech right, and I will be interested to see how Threads develops as a platform over time.
Will it stagnate, become over-censored or turn out to be just another fad? Time will tell.