23rd September 2023

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Technology and Computer

Meta’s Twitter rival Threads is here. Can it survive the company’s woes?

Meta launched its microblogging app Threads on Thursday, the latest among several platforms that have been designed to rival Twitter as users jump ship from the beleaguered social media site.

The company behind Instagram and Facebook pitched Threads as an app that will do for text and dialogue what Instagram did for photos and video. 

“There should be a public conversations app with 1 billion+ people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will,” Meta CEO Zuckerberg said on Threads, where he now has a million followers.

Thirty million people signed up for the app within 18 hours of its launch, according to the company. That rush is helped by the fact that users log into a Threads account using their Instagram username and password, lending the new platform a built-in user base. Users can also import their Instagram followers list to Threads.

Posts on Threads can be 500 characters long, with the option to attach links, photos or videos up to five minutes long. Users can follow friends or public figures (celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian have already signed up) and like, re-post or reply to their posts. 

According to Threads’ privacy policy, users can’t currently delete a Threads account without also deleting their Instagram.

Threads also does not have hashtags and keyword search functions, nor a direct messaging function, a following feed or desktop version. Some of these features will be added, but “it will take time,” Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri wrote in a thread.

Twitter has been bleeding users and advertisers after a series of decisions by former CEO Elon Musk, including reinstating banned accounts, laying off staff and, most recently, imposing a rate limit that restricts the number of posts non-premium users can read daily.

The company has reportedly threatened to sue Meta for “engaging in systematic, willful, and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property,” according to a letter obtained and published by U.S. news site Semafor.

‘Leap-frogging’ over other competitors

A laptop showing the homepage of a social network platform.
The homepage for decentralized platform Mastodon is shown. The social network saw a surge in users amid chaos at Twitter. (Bob Becken/CBC)

Competitors like Bluesky and Mastodon are among the new platforms to benefit from that drain, though Threads has an undeniable advantage, according to Richard Lachman, an associate professor in the school of media at Toronto Metropolitan University.

“Clearly, Instagram has a massive installed base already. So by hitching this to Instagram, they’re leap-frogging over the way some of the other platforms can’t,” Lachman said.

Instagram has previously launched features meant to compete with other social media apps, like “reels,” which rivals TikTok’s short-form videos, and a “stories” feature with posts that disappear after a set amount of time to contend with Snapchat.

“I think there might still be too many choices,” said Dana DiTomaso, a tech columnist based in Sooke, B.C., and president of digital marketing agency Kick Point.

“Part of what it feels like now on the internet is almost like the early days, when you had to make the effort to go out and get things from people and it wasn’t necessarily delivered to you in an easy-to-digest method,” she said, citing examples like signing up for email newsletters or RSS feeds.

Meta has plans to make Threads compatible with the decentralized ActivityPub protocol, allowing users to transfer their content to other platforms if they wish to stop using the app, according to its spokesperson. That will make it useable with other platforms like Mastodon or WordPress.

“I think that’s part of why Threads is built on this open social network protocol,” DiTomaso added. “Because they did specifically say they had the idea that [they] don’t want you to be deplatformed if you leave, [they] want you to be able to take your followers with you, which may be the future of the internet and open social networks.”

No plans to monetize — yet

A screen shows a man gesturing.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is shown during a virtual event on Oct. 28, 2021. The tech executive says the company won’t have plans to monetize its new social media platform Threads until it sees a clear path to one billion users. (Eric Risberg/The Associated Press)

Threads is currently ad-free. Meta will only consider monetizing the new platform after it sees a clear path to one billion users, Zuckerberg wrote on Thursday.

Darian Kovacs, the director of Vancouver-based firm Jelly Digital Marketing, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the company hits that milestone within the next few months.

“The ease of signing up, the accessibility for people that are already on their existing platforms — I think those that are frustrated with Twitter and have left Twitter now have a place to go,” he said.

Meta has burned billions of dollars since announcing its vision of a metaverse, Kovacs noted. Facebook’s parent company took on its new name during a 2021 rebranding, positioning the company’s virtual reality project as its number one priority — but that enthusiasm has since dampened.

WATCH | Threads looks and scrolls a lot like Twitter: 

Twitter competitor Threads attracting millions of users and mixed reviews

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has launched a text-based social media platform meant to compete with Twitter called Threads. It has already garnered millions of users on its first day but many critics say it still has many of the same drawbacks of other social media platforms.

“The same way they looked at other programs and were able to emulate them and bring them over. I think they know that this works … So I think they’re just simply emulating the best of [Twitter] and bringing it over.

Concerns around data-sharing

Threads is available in 100 countries as of Thursday — but not the European Union and other countries in the European Economic Area. That launch has reportedly been delayed amid regulatory concerns over how Meta will share user data between Threads and its sister platform Instagram.

The EU’s Digital Markets Act, which came into effect in November, contains provisions on data-sharing between platforms, limiting what Big Tech companies can do with users’ information.

Threads could collect a wide range of personal information, including health, financial, contacts, browsing and search history, location data, purchases and “sensitive info,” according to its data privacy disclosure on the App Store.

“[Meta is] getting crackdowns in the EU, lawsuits in the U.S. around … privacy things and misinformation. So they’re really looking for how do they expand and grow,” Lachman said.

While the app is available to download in Canada, the company is still assessing how the federal Online News Act, or Bill C-18, will impact the ability of users in this country to view news stories on the platform, a spokesperson told CBC News.

Google and Meta previously said they would block access to news articles in Canada if the legislation was passed. It was passed last month, and Meta made good on that promise this week when Canadian news articles, including CBC News reporting, began to disappear from Instagram.

LISTEN | Why Meta is struggling:

Front Burner24:02As Meta struggles, Zuckerberg puts employees under the gun

As the global economy slows down, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is pushing employees to speed up. The Facebook and Instagram parent company set a record in February, losing the most stock value in a single day in U.S. history. But Zuckerberg has continued sinking billions of dollars into his vision of a “metaverse,” pressed for faster updates to compete with TikTok, and is upping the pressure on employees. According to reports of an internal Q&A in June, Zuckerberg told employees: “Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.” Today, The Verge deputy editor Alex Heath explains the many threats to Meta that make this “the most pressure” it’s ever faced, and how struggles across the tech sector are causing an unprecedented shift in its lavish culture.