Consider a social network in which individuals have spent so much social capital in sharing information about themselves that it is difficult to foresee them departing. Moving to a new site would be a huge risk for users since they would lose their social network. According to the hypothesis, these impediments to beginning over at a new outlet safeguard the network’s whole survival.
This was how the Guardian defined Myspace in 2007 when the early social media had 150 million global members, a figure so huge that it was thought unlikely that they would ever leave. (In the end, Myspace was quickly surpassed by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, Rupert Murdoch lost nearly all of the money he paid for the site, and Myspace’s once-ubiquitous creator Tom Anderson has roamed the world on the profits ever since.)
Sixteen years later, Elon Musk’s Twitter is likewise testing the hypothesis that individuals remain devoted to their preferred social network until they abruptly abandon it and move elsewhere. This week, Zuckerberg introduced Threads, a new platform geared at attracting users who, in the words of one executive, want a “sanely run” version of Twitter.
One thing is evident after a day of using Threads: it is not Twitter. Threads, on the other hand, has the potential to be something fresh and powerful: Twitter with less rough edges, more corporate shine, and enough potential to drain the life – and advertising income – out of Musk’s faltering network.
The most noticeable contrast is that Threads is far less confrontational, violent, and centred on yelling at people with opposing political ideas than Twitter. The racism, antisemitism, transphobia, and general hate that pervades Twitter is just not as evident. According to Zuckerberg, this is a design feature: “The idea is to maintain Facebook pleasant as it increases… That’s one of the reasons Twitter hasn’t been as successful as I believe it should have been, and we want to approach things differently.”
Threads has also addressed the difficulty of creating a new social network from scratch by stealing one from Instagram. Threads is not hampered by the feeling that you’ve just arrived at a new school without pals because any existing Instagram user may join up and quickly reconnect with their followers on the photo-sharing app. (In an odd Brexit perk for British users, EU nations are presently barred from joining up to Threads since this function may violate Brussels’ data laws.)
On the other hand, no one is exactly clear why they are using Threads at the moment. Users known for posting photos on Instagram who have unexpectedly gained an enormous audience on a text-centric app; social media managers at companies desperate to retain relevance by jumping on the hot new thing; and people fleeing Twitter’s increasingly toxic environment dominate the site. They all have different ideas about what they want from the site. A big portion of the first day’s posts were people inquiring why they had signed up.
Threads also lacks Twitter’s immediacy, with the app’s main news feed now simply displaying an algorithmically generated summary of recent postings. Until this feature is adjusted to allow users to prioritise anything released in the previous few minutes, the site’s utility as a source for breaking news is limited. When Keir Starmer was heckled at an event in Gillingham on Thursday morning, the video quickly went viral on Twitter. However, it was far less obvious on Threads, which also lacks a text search capability at the moment.
Threads is more like a hybrid of Twitter and Instagram, with a TikTok-style emphasis on maximising post engagement. A hilarious post from the Archbishop of Banterbury meme account is more likely to appear than a serious debate about a political action by his Church of England counterpart.
All of this is terrible news for Twitter under Musk, which may become even more of a haven for right-wing libertarians talking about culture war issues. At its finest, being on Twitter in the mid-2010s felt like getting invited to the funniest, most intriguing party in town. It proved to be one of the most effective media regulators in history, a wonderful venue to quickly call out sloppy journalism and political disinformation. It was not necessarily where the great majority of the globe learned about events – it was Facebook – but it was most likely where the information was posted first.
It was also ideal for forming online groups based on common interests, such as political news, preferred bands, or LGBTQ+ rights. However, cramming a lot of diverse communities with deeply held beliefs into the same online house party has drawbacks. Anger and rage proved to be the most effective strategy to go viral and reach a large audience. During his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump utilised the site as a loudhailer to flood the media zone.
Finally, the debut of Threads may be simply another step towards the breakdown of the 2010s social media landscape and its resuscitation as a more sanitised advertiser-friendly environment, rather than a chaotic free-for-all conversation.
Threads, according to Zuckerberg, will eventually surpass Twitter’s 250 million monthly users. “It will take some time, but I think there should be a public conversation app with 1 billion+ people on it,” he stated. “Twitter had the opportunity to do this but didn’t nail it.” We’re hoping so.”