Elon Musk vs Mark Zuckerberg: Instagram unveils Threads app, a potential rival to Twitter

Instagram, owned by Meta Platforms Inc., has launched Threads, a new app designed to directly compete with Twitter. The app allows users to share text, links, and engage in conversations, and enables seamless transfer of follower lists and account names from Instagram.

Mausam Jha
First Published6 Jul 2023
FILE PHOTO: Meta's Threads app logo is seen in this illustration taken July 4, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Meta’s Threads app logo is seen in this illustration taken July 4, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo(REUTERS)

Instagram, owned by Meta Platforms Inc., has officially introduced Threads, a new application explicitly developed to directly compete with Twitter. This launch poses the most significant challenge to Elon Musk's ailing social media platform to date.

As reported by Bloomberg, Threads, the newly unveiled app by Instagram, offers users the ability to share text, links, and engage in conversations by replying to or reposting messages from fellow users. Notably, the app enables users to seamlessly transfer their existing follower lists and account names from Instagram, Meta's popular photo and video-sharing platform with a user base exceeding 2 billion, which includes renowned brands, celebrities, and content creators.

“There should be a public conversations app with 1 billion-plus people on it,” Meta Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday in a post on Threads. “Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will.”

Many of Instagram’s influential users have been asking the company to make a text-based app, according to Connor Hayes, a vice president of product.

“Creators were telling us, ‘We want an alternative to what’s out there, and we don’t want to start over and have to build out a following from zero,’” Hayes said in an interview, without mentioning Twitter specifically.

Meta-owned platforms Instagram and Facebook have gained a reputation for their track record of emulating products from emerging internet competitors, which has proven to be remarkably successful. Notably, Instagram's Reels feature was developed as a direct rival to the popular viral video app TikTok, while its Stories feature was introduced following the rise of Snap Inc.'s Snapchat, which offers disappearing posts. 

Meta's previous apps have indirectly competed with Twitter by attracting news publishers, politicians, and prominent individuals to prioritize posting on their platforms instead. This strategy aimed to capture user attention and engagement.

However, the launch of Threads signifies a significant milestone for Meta, as it is the first time the company is directly introducing a Twitter-like application, explicitly targeting the microblogging giant's functionality and user base. 

Meta's timing appears opportune as Elon Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion in October. Since then, the company has undergone significant changes, including laying off numerous employees, implementing more relaxed content moderation policies, and subjecting users and advertisers to a series of technical difficulties.

Twitter is also experiencing financial challenges, with a significant decline in advertising revenue, as highlighted by Elon Musk in March. The San Francisco-based company has seen a staggering 50% decrease in advertising revenue. In an effort to address these issues and enhance relationships with brands, Musk has recently appointed Linda Yaccarino, a former NBCUniversal executive, as the new Chief Executive Officer.

Even with the launch of Threads, Twitter currently imposes limitations on the number of tweets users can view per day. This restriction is implemented as a temporary measure, aiming to protect against data scrapers and bots.

Those restrictions are only the latest move prompting Twitter users to seek alternatives. But most of the company’s previous direct challengers, such as Bluesky and Mastodon, haven’t built up networks big enough to give posts the reach and impact they have on Twitter. Many new alternative networks are also still building out systems for managing harmful, inappropriate or violent content.

Threads will embark with all those mature company systems in place, thanks to Instagram’s existing infrastructure. The app will have the same content rules as Instagram, with the same controls for muting and blocking harassing accounts. Public figures who have verified accounts on Instagram can maintain their blue badges on Threads. Earlier this year, Twitter turned verification into a paid-only feature.

“People are looking for an experience where they have more control, and where safety is built into the product from the start,” Hayes said.

Another selling point, Hayes said, is that Threads is built on the same ActivityPub social-networking protocol as Mastodon and other decentralized social media apps. That means people who build followings on Threads eventually will be able to use the app to interact with a wider community beyond Instagram. It’s the first Meta app that will be interoperable with competing products, though Hayes didn’t give a timeline for that update, Bloomberg noted.

Threads is also launching without ads — for now, the focus is to get as many people excited about the product as possible, Hayes said.

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