Twitter: Hanging by a Thread

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Threads has sparked a buzz within the microblogging community with its timely entrance into the market during Twitter’s declining popularity, but is that enough to sideline the ‘Blue Bird?’


 

Ever since Elon Musk took over, Twitter has been embroiled in one controversy after another. First, it was slave-driving. Next, came the layoffs. Now, it is Threads by Meta. Coming in with big potential, Meta’s Threads has polished technology, a built-in user base, and better moderation which will undoubtedly please larger advertisers. With impulsive management weighing the popular blue bird down, will Twitter survive the threat of its newest adversary?

It hasn’t really been a very long time since Elon Musk took over Twitter. Over the span of just a few months, the new management has landed into trouble over how the popular opinion medium would run. From cancelling official blue ticks for a number of celebrities across the globe without much notice, and replacing Twitter’s home button with Doge, to restricting Twitter users from sharing to a rival social medium, and the newest, that Twitter may now be getting rid of its iconic bird logo and replacing it with something else, owner Elon Musk has delivered a number of head-scratchers in his short tenure. 

Take, for instance, his controversial and somewhat demeaning decision that free Twitter accounts would temporarily only be able to see about 600 tweets per day. (The statement was met with quite a bit of derision.) Or how Musk decided to take away people’s ability to curate their own feeds and silence media voices at a time when people looked towards it for verified sources of breaking news (he was found to be selling the right to unchecked credentials to anyone who could pay USD 8 per month). Since then, a number of ‘verified’ accounts were also seen to disseminate fake news, tarnishing the credibility of the microblog further. 

For these reasons and more, the company now finds itself floundering to retain its regular advertisers. Where 90% of Twitter’s annual income was comprised of advertisements, its controversial decision to make regular consumers pay for blue ticks has resulted in an expected decline in ad revenue – all of 28% since last year. 


The problem with Twitter’s clash with the new microblogging site Threads is, therefore, not that it offers some breakthrough technology; only that it offers a convenient alternative to Twitter at the perfect timing.


However, let’s hold off on writing Twitter’s eulogy just yet. Many have made this mistake in the past- writing off Twitter or predicting its demise prematurely, but it never materialised into anything more than idle speculation. The world would do well to remember that this is the very same platform where people watched the demise of Boris Johnson’s premiership as it unfolded, and where they witnessed the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia. Some researchers have even scoured Twitter sentiment to determine how it affected stock prices. Everything good and bad unravels on Twitter, in real time. Despite Elon Musk’s relatively directionless spearheading of the platform, people do still turn to Twitter for news.

The problem with Twitter’s clash with the new microblogging site Threads is, therefore, not that it offers some breakthrough technology; only that it offers a convenient alternative to Twitter at the perfect timing. Twitter had been grappling with the issue of hate speech even before the Elon Musk era and the negative vibes were enough to turn off a lot of its users. Meta may slyly have waited for the most opportune time to launch Threads – just when Twitter’s non-paying users were livid about being able to see limited tweets. Where Twitter users had been long on the lookout for a new microblogging site to jump ship, Threads offered them one and how! Meta’s entrance into the microblogging scene has come as a game changer of sorts and good timing has a lot to do with it. 

Currently, Threads is looking ‘uber cool.’ This means that it is packed with celebrities and influencers, the most followed out of these being Kim Kardashian and Shakira. However, most people feel that while Meta’s Threads has received the most phenomenal welcome out of all other social media platforms, accumulating more than 30 million sign-ups within just 18 hours of its release to the public, it may find itself having to prove its stay power. 

 

 

There are two reasons being cited for this. One, Meta has been known to imitate formats – its Reels emulates TikTok and its Disappearing Stories is similar to Snapchat. While there have been significant takers for both Reels and Stories, Meta has not been able to kill off either of the two pioneers. So, while Threads might gain individual popularity, it remains to be seen whether it would have enough muscle to push Twitter over the edge. Second, there have been others in the past with apps that swore to take Twitter down. These included Mastodon, Koo, Spoutible and Bluesky, all following a pattern of initial hype and then an awkward fizzle-out.

Other problems plaguing the Threads founder Mark Zuckerburg are that despite its phenomenal release, Threads is not yet all that polished. First, it is not available to most of the European Union as its privacy standards do not agree with the area. Second, the feed, by default, consists of a random group of accounts that people follow and a number of posts that get selected by an algorithm. Third, one cannot message another user directly and finally, the feed does not always follow a chronological order, but an algorithmic one. One cannot find a trending topics section on Threads yet – its search feature brings up accounts, not posts, which is rather disheartening for users who wish to follow news events. 

There’s more! Thread’s content quality has already been called into question. Even if touted as “a place to join public conversations”, it is largely full of inspirational quotes, travel posts and memes. Social Media expert Matt Navarra has described the app to be “a little frivolous” and fun. The content quality might seem cheap, he says. “It’s like Twitter with an Instagram wrapper on it.” Twitter could have been the more serious, older or perhaps at least a more mature voice here but the bird has long since forgotten how to chirp sensibly. 

Threads also seems unwilling to go into hard news just yet. News outlets have only 1% of the follower count that they did on Twitter. Brands are receiving a much better response, with more followers and definitely a lot more enthusiasm. Threads might be goading Twitter into eliciting angry responses, but the truth is that the follower pool is not as mature when it comes to Threads. For instance, Boris Johnson’s entire political identity unravelled on Twitter and people were enthralled. This doesn’t seem like something that would happen on Threads – there are simply not enough politicians on it.


Tied to Instagram, which has a fourth of the world’s population on it, Threads has a sizeable hub from which it can easily rope in users. The biggest advertisers, such as Netflix, among others, were all there at its release for the same reason.


Fifteen years ago, Zuckerburg wanted to take over Twitter. Threads is probably an ode to that wish but many feel that despite there being massive potential, it is too early to lump the new microblogging platform into the big leagues just yet. Notable also, is the fact that applications dealing solely with microblogging have never seen a smooth growth trajectory. Despite apprehensions, Meta remains hopeful about its application, due to a number of reasons. 

Of course, the most undeniably promising thing about Threads remains that while all the other applications that had tried their hand at microblogging did not have the critical mass required to really rival Twitter, Threads does. Tied to Instagram, which has a fourth of the world’s population on it, Threads has a sizeable hub from which it can easily rope in users. The biggest advertisers, such as Netflix, among others, were all there at its release for the same reason.

The overall technology of Threads might be linked to Instagram, but it is a whole different application altogether. It has a team of superior engineers to rival the best of Twitter and will eventually get additional help from ActivityPub, which can essentially allow users to take their accounts to a new social media platform, should Threads ever shut down. 

Threads is built from scratch, is intuitive and user-friendly, and most importantly, has funds that can give it the momentum it needs. This may be why, in spite of the notion that it is a risky venture, Meta is of the opinion, that Threads could become the hero that boosts it as a brand, helped along, of course, Elon Musk’s poor leadership of Twitter. It is a golden opportunity for Meta to rake in all the advertising revenue that Twitter is losing. 

John Wihbey, a professor in the School of Journalism and Media Innovation at Northeastern University, and a contracted consultant for Twitter says that Threads has taken Twitter by surprise. That Meta would go into microblogging and people would actually take to it, was unexpected. Tama Leaver, a professor of internet studies at Curtin University of Australia, says, “If Threads can displace Twitter’s current toxicity, it may well steal Musk’s crown.”

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