To many users, Twitter had become like a bad boyfriend.
Under Elon Musk, the platform could be unreliable and unfiltered. Some users called it toxic. They encouraged their followers to get off the platform in protest of Musk’s leadership, including his algorithm changes and decision to reinstate Donald Trump’s account. Other tech companies, like Substack, tried to offer frustrated Twitter users a new place to go, but none was compelling enough to pose a viable alternative — until now.
This week, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, released Threads, its Twitter competitor. It soon became the most rapidly downloaded app ever. More than 70 million users have joined Threads in the last few days, blowing past the audience sizes of Twitter’s other challengers.
Why? Because Meta had something that the other competitors didn’t: two billion existing users whom the company could push to use the new product. People log in to Threads using their Instagram account, rather than having to create a new user name, password and profile photo. Meta has also used its existing platforms to promote Threads.
For people who liked Twitter but didn’t like the changes that Musk put in place, or had grown tired of his antics, the emergence of Threads is exciting. For all its downsides, Twitter did play an important role in many people’s lives, helping them understand the news and stay current on trends in culture.
At the same time, the early success of Threads highlights a recurring problem in the internet economy. A tiny number of gargantuan companies have ever more control over our attention. Twitter, if anything, was too small to be considered part of this club. Meta, by contrast, is a modern behemoth, along with Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
“They’re not only the wealthiest corporations that have ever existed, but they’ve institutionalized a new form of profound inequality” in who controls information, Shoshana Zuboff, a privacy expert at Harvard, said. “Threads is simply another property in a global surveillance empire.”
In the rest of today’s newsletter, we’ll explain the basics of Threads, assess its likelihood of long-term success and give you links to more coverage, in The Times and beyond.
What is it?
Threads looks a lot like Twitter. It offers many of the same features: a scrolling feed of posts, some with photos or videos attached, and the ability to repost other users. The feed is a mix of posts from accounts that users follow and those suggested by an algorithm.
But it’s also supposed to have a different vibe. Meta has pitched Threads as a less political version of Twitter, but it’s not clear how the company will maintain that atmosphere.
Many of the platform’s posts have made memes out of the competition between Twitter and Threads. Users have photoshopped the faces of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, and Musk onto famous fights, like Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. News outlets, like The Guardian and Semafor, joined and started posting their articles. So far, those posts seem indistinguishable from tweets.
But users are having fun on the platform, too. Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez and Tom Brady all created accounts, and many celebrities posted welcome messages. Pitbull said, “Mr. Worldwide checkin in.” And Martha Stewart posted a photo in a pool, saying she was “ready to make a splash.”
Meta’s commitment to keep Threads “positive” is a contrast to Musk’s plan to make Twitter an uncensored platform. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said Meta decided to create the app specifically to respond to “product changes and decisions” that Musk made at Twitter.
The rollout has heightened the rivalry between Zuckerberg and Musk, who have recently been threatening to cage-fight each other. After Threads’ release, Musk claimed he had previously deleted his Instagram account. “It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter, than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram,” he wrote on Twitter.
Lawyers for Twitter sent Meta a letter threatening legal action, accusing Zuckerberg’s company of using trade secrets to build Threads. The app is also not currently available in the European Union because Meta is not yet sure whether it complies with Europe’s strict privacy rules.
The early success has been a rare recent win for Meta. Facebook and Instagram have struggled to keep up with TikTok, while Zuckerberg’s dreams of creating a “metaverse” have gone mostly unrealized. The company has laid off thousands of employees.
Still, the early momentum for Threads does not guarantee long-term success. Other platforms, like BeReal and Clubhouse, have generated buzz as the future of social media, only to wither.
Again, though, Meta has an advantage that none of those other attempts did: It’s easy to attract users when you already have them.
More on Threads
“Right now it’s just very friendly in there. Now, we’ll see what it looks like when the gates blow open and anyone and everyone can join. But the vibes are good in there right now,” Mosseri, the Instagram chief, said on The Times’s “Hard Fork” podcast.
Threads is simple to use, “thanks to some serious Twitter copying and pasting,” The Wall Street Journal writes. But it lacks hashtags or private messaging.
Threads is the first app to threaten Twitter’s status as “the watercooler of the internet,” Bloomberg’s Dave Lee writes.
To delete a Threads profile, users have to delete their Instagram account. This may conflict with the government’s efforts to make it easier to cancel online accounts.
Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said that the U.S. and China would have more frequent communication after her trip to Beijing.
The Dutch prime minister resigned after his coalition rejected his tough new line on refugees, demonstrating how potent the issue of migration is in European politics.
Ukrainian doctors who fled Russia’s invasion often face a difficult choice: stay unemployed or return to a country at war.
Other Big Stories
Justice Clarence Thomas’s membership in an elite club gave him access to a wealthy circle of friends. He, in turn, gave them rare access to the Supreme Court.
The star U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe said she would retire at the end of the year.
Realtors say their job — meeting strangers to woo them into buying property — comes with the risk of sexual harassment.
Russia will threaten nuclear war regardless of whether Ukraine joins NATO, Alyona Getmanchuk writes.
Here is a column by Farhad Manjoo on affirmative action.
The Sunday question: Should the U.S. supply Ukraine with cluster munitions?
Providing the weapons, which are banned in more than 100 countries but not in Ukraine, Russia or the U.S., would put at risk “the very people the Ukrainians are trying to protect,” MSNBC’s Hayes Brown writes. But cluster munitions are only considered criminal when they’re used indiscriminately, Robert Goldman writes at The Conversation, and it is “highly unlikely” that Ukraine would use them in civilian areas.
Summer destinations: National Parks get all of the attention. These public lands are also beautiful — but lack the crowds.
TikTok famous: Matt Rife was just another struggling stand-up comedian. Then he blew up on TikTok.
Vows: After her ex-husband used her identity to embezzle money, she swore never to marry again. She changed her mind.
Lives Lived: Sue Johanson was a beloved radio and television host who talked about sex with aplomb. She died at 92.
TALK | FROM THE TIMES MAGAZINE
Robert Downey Jr. co-stars in the director Christopher Nolan’s upcoming “Oppenheimer,” in which he plays Lewis Strauss, an antagonist of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.” I spoke with the actor about returning to nonfranchise roles after years spent mostly playing Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
You’re in a phase of your career, post-Marvel, in which you only have to work when you want to. How do you decide what movies to do?
At this point, you’re not doing it for the money. But then there’s the why: I don’t know why I can relate to Lewis Strauss so much, but I felt like I was meant to play this role. “Oppenheimer” has been a demarcation line for me.
I finished the Marvel contract and then hastily went into what had all the promise of being another potential franchise in “Doolittle.” After that, we had this reset of priorities. Then old Chris Nolan calls. So I guess my answer to your question is, it is great to spar with someone more dangerous than you.
Unlike with other actors, I have no idea how important being able to personally identify with a character is for your acting.
There’s things that feel in the sweet spot. I had an experience on “Oppenheimer” where we were doing a driving shot and it’s me and Nolan and the D.P. and driver, and we had to address something on the car. Nolan was like, “I’m going to step out — here, take this,” and put a mag of film in my lap. I was brought back to that first time I was on set with my dad and it was almost like in the five minutes that I was sitting there he gave me back my cellular dignity.
Read the full interview here.
More from the magazine
Read the full issue.
Times best sellers: Danielle Steel’s “Palazzo,” about a family business in Venice, is new this week on the hardcover fiction list.
THE MORNING RECOMMENDS …
Read Olivia Rodrigo discuss her new album in Vogue.
Pick the best waterproof camera.
Throw a great barbecue.
Watch the 50 best movies on Netflix right now.
THE WEEK AHEAD
What to Watch For
President Biden is scheduled to meet with King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London tomorrow.
Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby is tomorrow, followed by the All-Star game on Tuesday.
A trial is set to begin in Michigan tomorrow to determine which of Aretha Franklin’s handwritten wills is legally binding.
NATO leaders are scheduled to meet for a summit in Lithuania starting Tuesday.
Friday is Bastille Day in France.
The Wimbledon women’s singles final will be on Saturday, and the men’s final is on Sunday.
What to Cook This Week