After months of chaos on Twitter, many people are looking for something different, but most have yet to commit to a single platform, which is good news for Threads. “They certainly have a fighting chance if all their protections for communities and individuals are in place,” said Tama Leaver, a professor of Internet studies at Australia’s Curtin University. “If Threads can displace Twitter’s current toxicity, it could steal Musk’s crown.”
That also matters to brands, and by extension advertisers, who flooded Threads when it opened to users. Netflix and Spotify were right there, as were news organizations. Instagram has long been brand-friendly, and Twitter is increasingly losing trust. “It’s a game for advertising,” said Matthew Bailey, chief analyst of media and entertainment at consulting firm Omdia, of Meta’s venture into Threads. “It wants to pick up on that exodus of Twitter advertisers. Developing this brand-safe environment is crucial.”
Other competitors haven’t killed Twitter, despite ongoing technical and ethical issues with the bird app. Decentralized Mastodon saw a surge in new users, but interest eventually waned, with active monthly users at 1.7 million as of July. Bluesky has received attention, but is not fully open to new users. There’s also Post.news and Spill, though neither of these have emerged as a clear victor, and Twitter continues to falter eight months after being acquired by Musk.
Instagram, and by extension Threads, has its own set of challenges. Instagram has faced harassment and hate speech, and is still trying to take its reputation for negatively impacting teen mental health. But his reputation is better than Twitter, where hate speech has increased since Musk took over. And tellingly, Meta chose to tie Threads to Instagram rather than Facebook, which has an older audience and a worse reputation for toxic political battles.
But Meta has a mixed history when it comes to cannibalizing its competitors. Instagram Reels tapped into some of TikTok’s popularity, and Instagram Stories, a Snapchat copy, has become a staple of the app, though neither has killed the rival networks, which remain two of Meta’s biggest competitors for attention among younger generations.
Threads may be the shiny Twitter rival of the week, but Meta has a poor track record with projects outside of its core apps. His all-in bet on the metaverse hasn’t delivered the immersive world Zuckerberg envisioned, even if he added legs. In the past year alone, Meta has killed off other offshoots, including Super (a Cameo copy), Facebook live shopping, and Neighborhoods (a Nextdoor clone). A podcast push also packed up shop earlier in 2022. And Meta followed Twitter by announcing a paid subscription level earlier this year that would come with verification and better features.
And people generally don’t look to Twitter and Instagram to meet the same needs. Twitter allows some nudity while Instagram has blocked it. Instagram is sometimes about aesthetics and positivity and personal updates, though it’s notorious for veering into toxic positivity and overly edited and carefully selected images. Twitter’s brand is in snark, memes, and breaking news. It is doubtful that those two energies can merge seamlessly. “My take is that it’s less about text versus photos and videos and more about what public conversations you want to have,” Mosseri wrote in a thread about the platform’s purpose.
Discussions may never be Twitter, but it may be a friendlier place for conversation. For now, most posts on Threads are about the platform itself. But it will need to hold attention post-launch to avoid being shoved into the Meta graveyard of failed imitators.