July 20, 2023
Meta’s new Twitter-like social media platform, Threads, was officially launched on July 5th, 2023. In only 5 days, Threads had officially reached 100 million users. To put these numbers in perspective, Twitter, which has been around since 2006, had around 229 million active users in May 2022. But since its red hot launch, users have been noticing Threads’ many flaws. This, coupled with Threads’ current exclusion from the EU space due to being dubbed ‘data-hungry’, and its disregard for accessibility features, has prompted the question of why the app even exists – and whether there might be a hidden motive for it.

Why Meta Launched Threads

Meta is not currently capitalising on Threads. The platform is not pushing hashtags, which are arguably at the heart of Twitter, and it is currently not advertising much, either. So, how is it any better?

Twitter’s primary discussion topic is politics – and the way to identify trending topics is through hashtags. Importantly, however, most of the Tweets posted on this subject are also accompanied by what has become a Twitter-specific feeling – indignation. Twitter is arguably much better used for expressing opinions than spreading actual information, which was its initial goal. But Threads is not doing that either.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Threads at Meta, spoke on the reasoning behind creating the platform, saying “We are definitely focusing on kindness and making [Threads] a friendly place”. Threads’ design essentially restricts the publication of content similar to that on Twitter. In limiting the political talk that could make its way on Threads, Meta essentially cut out a significant proportion of Twitter users that might have otherwise migrated to the platform.

Considering that Meta launched Threads at a very opportune moment for reluctant Twitter users, their design decisions only raise more questions. More specifically, Meta was launched soon after Elon Musk decided to limit the number of tweets that users can see per day. This decision left many users feeling sour, but moving to Threads soon turned out to not be worth the effort.

Threads has also been dubbed a text-based Instagram. But what is the point of Instagram without its visuals? With an increasing number of users wondering just what the purpose of the platform is, and user time decreasing, Threads appears to be slowing down faster than expected.


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Twitter’s Reaction

In spite of its design flaws, Threads is still in user development, meaning that the product users are currently experiencing is not by any means finalised. In reality, Threads still poses a major threat to Twitter, mainly as a result of its unique onboarding process. When users sign up to Threads, they do so through their Instagram profile – and with the click of a button, they can import their following list onto Threads. So, almost automatically, users can follow accounts they have already shown interest in on Instagram.

Threads’ link to Instagram has been invaluable to its growth – and it might become the catalyst to Threads’ headcount outnumbering Twitter’s. According to Insider Intelligence, “Meta only needs 1 in 4 Instagram users to use Threads monthly for it to be as big as Twitter”.

Elon Musk was quick to react to Threads. The billionaire promptly sent a document threatening to sue the company, supposedly due to Meta having worked with former Twitter employees on Threads’ development. More specifically, Musk’s lawyer wrote: “Twitter intends to strictly enforce its intellectual property rights and demands that Meta take immediate steps to stop using any Twitter trade secrets or other highly confidential information.” Meta denied having any former Twitter employees on its engineering team.

The Flaws

One of Threads most obvious design flaws is actually also its biggest advantage. The platform’s tight link to Instagram does not enable users to create a Threads account without an Instagram. However, if you decide to try out Threads through Instagram and decide you don’t like it, you cannot simply delete your account. You would need to delete your Instagram profile, too.

Threads is also currently missing out on a big chunk of potential users – the entire EU. Since the ChatGPT privacy fiasco, the European Union has tightened up its regulations surrounding data and privacy, as well as digital markets. Threads does not yet meet the necessary requirements, and EU users – including those using VPNs – are currently banned as a result. Regardless, Threads’ lack of compliance with EU regulations only adds to its user base’s mounting list of concerns.

Another issue with regards to Threads’ design is its lack of accessible features. This oversight comes at a particularly bad time, with other platforms including Twitter having updated their accessibility features after years of disabled users campaigning for them. Here are some of the features Threads is currently lacking:

  • User-generated alt-text: although Meta does have an in-built AI-generated system for captioning images with alt-text, users with disabilities have repeatedly explained the value of being able to customise alt-text within their posts.
  • User-generated captions: AI-generated captions are far from perfect, particularly when it comes to accents or speech disabilities. For this reason, users often prefer uploading their own video captions. Allon Mason, the founder of web accessibility company UserWay has said: “This exclusion prevents individuals with hearing impairments from fully engaging with the content and enjoying the digital experience.”
  • No customisable fonts or text features: Threads does not currently allow its users to customize its text in order to improve readability.

Interested in which laws protect your privacy? Read more about them here.

The Background

Meta has a history of launching products in a bid to kill off its competitors. Most of the time, they failed. For instance, in 2012, Meta launched Poke, which aimed to copy Snapchat; it was shut down within two years of its launch.

For now, it is unclear whether Threads will see any long-lasting success and surpass Twitter, or whether it will join Meta’s graveyard of unsuccessful projects. Nevertheless, it has certainly sparked important debates surrounding Meta’s long-term intentions, data regulation compliance and web accessibility.

Check out our article on Meta’s other run-in with EU regulations.


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