Two hours after hitting the start button on Threads, Instagram’s new app for real-time, public conversations, on Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg posted that more than two million people had downloaded his latest creation.
That was just the beginning.
Another two hours later, five million people had downloaded Threads. By the time Mr. Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, went to bed on Wednesday night, the number of downloads had risen to 10 million. When he woke up Thursday morning, the app had been downloaded more than 30 million times, he said.
In less than a day, Threads – which is meant to rival Twitter – seems to have taken the crown as the fastest downloaded app ever. According to OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, it easily surpassed ChatGPT, the chatbot, which was downloaded a million times in its first five days. And Threads is on track to surpass 100 million users in two months, a feat achieved only by ChatGPT, according to analytics firm Compareweb.
Some of Twitter’s most-followed users — such as Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Shakira, and Oprah Winfrey — immediately joined Threads and started posting. The atmosphere was celebratory, with users writing welcome messages and expressing eagerness to read each other’s posts. At one point, the new app became so overrun with users that it seemed unstable.
“This is as good a start as we could have hoped for!” Mr. Zuckerberg, whose company owns Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp, said in a post on Threads Thursday. He later added, “It feels like the start of something special.”
The early momentum underlined people’s desire to find an alternative to Twitter, the 17-year-old digital town square that has long been the central place for online public conversation. Since Elon Musk bought Twitter last year, the billionaire has made changes that have angered the social platform’s longtime users, especially those who don’t care about his laissez-faire approach to content moderation. Twitter is also experiencing more outages and bugs.
Mr. Musk is not taking Mr. Zuckerberg’s actions lightly. In a letter Wednesday, Twitter lawyers threatened legal action against Meta, accusing the company of using trade secrets from its former employees to build Threads. Twitter also asked Meta to keep internal documents relevant to a dispute between the two companies. The letter was previously reported by Semafor.
“Competition is fine, cheating is not,” Musk said tweeted on Thursday.
Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, also fell for Mr. Zuckerberg’s new app. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 7 Twitter clones,” he tweeted Thursday.
In a message to Threads, Andy Stone, a Meta spokesperson, said there were no former Twitter engineers working on Threads. “That’s just not a thing,” he wrote.
Threads was a surprise hit for Meta, which was in desperate need of a win after coming under scrutiny for spreading misinformation and other toxic content on the internet. While Mr. Zuckerberg’s social network was lauded in its early days, in recent years it has been criticized by regulators, activists and users who have expressed anger at the company’s handling of data and its products. Meta has also faced questions about its move into the still-emerging immersive digital world of the so-called metaverse.
But this week was a reprieve—briefly, at least—for Mr. Zuckerberg and company. Inside Meta on Wednesday night, employees rejoiced at the launch of Threads, sharing inside jokes and memes with each other, according to screenshots of the conversations viewed by The New York Times.
One employee noted that morale was soaring internally after a year of layoffs and cutbacks at the company. Another shared a meme of two characters from the 1999 movie “The Mummy” telling each other that Twitter has been “replaced by Meta,” according to a screenshot.
Threads was a crash project that came out of Instagram seven months ago, after the company decided it wanted to “take a bet” and take over Twitter, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said.
The project, code-named “Project 92,” was a closely guarded secret, said two people familiar with the project. The team was small and other parts of Meta didn’t have access to the first versions of the app, they said.
Celebrities, brands and influencers were given early access to the app in recent days, a move by Meta to spark a free culture of fun and discussion. Mr Mosseri said he wanted Threads to be a “friendly place” for public conversation.
“Can’t get enough of your threads,” actress Jennifer Lopez said in a Threads post, adding a music note emoji. Ms. DeGeneres wrote in her first Threads post, “Welcome to Gay Twitter!”
Some Threads users were also put off by an issue that might require them to delete their connected Instagram account if they wanted to delete their Threads account. Instagram said it was looking at alternative ways for Threads users to deactivate their accounts.
Instagram appears to be taking a hands-on approach to what can and can’t be posted on Threads to create a “friendly” conversation app, Mr. Zuckerberg said.
Throughout the app, Threads shrouded some posts behind a warning box that said the content had been “reviewed by independent fact-checkers” and deemed misleading. Users can click a button in the alert window to reveal the contents. An additional pop-up window contained a brief explanation of why the content was hidden and a link to a message from the fact-checkers who made the ruling.
Threads also seemed to completely hide some comments. Tomi Lahren, a right-wing influencer, asked in her first post on the app, “Will Meta also censor conservative thoughts here?” – a joke against mainstream social networks that have moderated false and misleading content in the past. A label appeared at the bottom of the comment section of her post that read, “Some answers are not available.”
Another warning appeared when users tried to follow some influencers that Meta had previously flagged for publishing false or misleading content.
“Are you sure you want to follow the person,” the alert asked. “This account has repeatedly posted false information that has been reviewed by independent fact-checkers or against our Community Guidelines.” The same warning popped up during attempts to follow those users’ Instagram profiles.
For new Threads users like Kate Stone, a 63-year-old lawyer in North Carolina, proper content moderation is important. She had a dormant Twitter account and once dreamed of owning a Tesla, the electric cars created by Mr. Musk, but had given up on both when the tech billionaire started tweeting more politically conservative messages. But she wanted to be part of the public conversation online, and she thought Threads would be a way to do that.
“I read about Threads and I’m not really into Zuckerberg, but I saw it was easy to do if you have an Instagram account,” Ms. Stone said in an interview. “So I thought, I’ll give it a try.”
Stuart A. Thompson And Framework Metz reporting contributed.