🔒 Premium – From the FT: Meta says 10m signed up to Twitter competitor, Threads on Instagram

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is pitching the app as a “friendly” alternative to Elon Musk’s struggling social media platform

By Hannah Murphy in San Francisco for the Financial Times

Meta said more than 10mn people had signed up to its long-awaited competitor to Twitter in what chief executive Mark Zuckerberg pitched as a “friendly” alternative to the struggling social media platform owned by Elon Musk.

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The app, called Threads, is a “text-based conversation app” where users are able to publish posts up to 500 characters long, and include links, photos and videos. As with Twitter, the posts can be replied to, liked or shared by others.

Within hours of its launch on Wednesday, Zuckerberg took to the new app to boast about its user figures. “Let’s do this. Welcome to Threads,” he wrote earlier in his first post.

Threads is directly linked to Instagram, Meta’s popular photo-sharing platform with more than 2bn users, and is being rolled out in more than 100 countries for iOS and Android. Users currently cannot sign up for Threads without an Instagram account.

The launch of the app, dubbed the “Twitter killer” by some users, poses a direct threat to Musk’s platform. Since Twitter was bought by the billionaire for $44bn in October, it has lurched from crisis to crisis, frustrating users and big advertisers while teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

In a post on Wednesday, Zuckerberg cast Threads as a more wholesome substitute to Twitter.

“The goal is to keep it friendly as it expands. I think it’s possible and will ultimately be the key to its success,” Zuckerberg wrote. “That’s one reason why Twitter never succeeded as much as I think it should have, and we want to do it differently.”

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Meta has long grappled with concerns from academics and activists that it does not sufficiently police its Instagram and Facebook platforms, but over time it has tightened up its policies and invested in increased moderation.

The rollout comes as Musk, by contrast, has relaxed Twitter’s approach to moderation, prompting dozens of advertisers to flee and reducing its $5bn annual revenues by 50 per cent.

Some Twitter users have sought alternatives to the platform over Musk’s moderation stance and the introduction of an $8-a-month premium service with some features that had previously been free.

Over the weekend, Musk provoked frustration from some Twitter users when he introduced temporary limits on the number of posts users could view. He said it was an attempt to “address extreme levels of data scraping [and] system manipulation”.

So far, however, nascent challengers — such as Donald Trump’s Truth Social, Jack Dorsey’s Bluesky, and Mastodon — have failed to gain big enough communities in order to spill into the mainstream.

Meta is known for cloning features offered by rival platforms in its pursuit of growth, most notably when it created “Instagram Stories” — a copycat of the disappearing vertical video clips first popularised by smaller competitor Snap. Meta has more recently created a short-form video format, similar to that of ByteDance-owned TikTok, called Reels.

But Threads’ particular advantage is its link to Instagram, which allows users to bring across their existing usernames and followers from the photo app, enabling them to instantly have a network.

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Some users said that helped to bring the site alive as soon as they signed up, avoiding the “cold start” problem for new social platforms.

Unlike early Twitter, which displayed all tweets chronologically, Threads has launched with an algorithmic timeline, giving priority to posts with more engagement and occasionally showing those from people that a user does not already follow. 

Threads appears to have few, if any, paid ads at launch, although several brands have leapt on to the new platform.

Meta is not initially launching the app in the EU, its second-largest market by revenue, because of uncertainty around new regulations in the bloc.

The move heightens the rivalry between two of Silicon Valley’s most prominent billionaires. Last month, Musk wrote on his platform that he was “up for a cage match” with Zuckerberg, who has recently rebranded himself as a ju-jitsu aficionado. Zuckerberg appeared to accept the challenge. It is unclear if and when the contest will take place.

In a statement on Wednesday, Meta said it planned for Threads to be compatible with ActivityPub, an open social networking protocol established by the World Wide Web Consortium. This would mean that users would in the future be able to transfer the followings and content that they have on Threads across to other apps built on the ActivityPub protocol, which include Mastodon and WordPress.

“Threads is Meta’s first app envisioned to be compatible with an open social networking protocol — we hope that by joining this fast-growing ecosystem of interoperable services, Threads will help people find their community, no matter what app they use,” Meta said.

Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw and Cristina Criddle in London

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