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By Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News, titled “Meta’s Threads is Twitter’s second biggest challenge”

Meta’s new Threads service is the second biggest challenge to Twitter. The biggest challenge is the antics of its owner, Elon Musk.

Musk, who took over the company last year and has fired thousands of employees, including many of its moderators, disbanded its safety advisory council (which I was on) and has made life a lot easier for scammers and bigots and less pleasant for those who want to use it for civil online conversations.

As a result, thousands of people have left Twitter or drastically cut down their use, creating a void that has been filled by several Twitter alternatives including Bluesky, Mastodon, Post, Spill, T2 and Donald Trump’s Truth Social. While each of these has its fans, none has gained critical mass.

Listen to “Meta’s Threads is Kinder and Gentler than Twitter” on Spreaker.
Listen to Larry Magid’s one minute “ConnectSafely Report” for CBS News Radio

Network effect

Starting any new social media service is challenging because of the network effect. No matter how good it may be, most people don’t want to be on a service unless their friends are there, and the people you want to interact with may not be there with you.

But Threads, which is an extension of Instagram, has a way around that problem because it allows you to follow your Instagram friends. By July 10, just five days after it was launched, Threads reached the 100-million user mark. Twitter, which has been around since 2006, had nearly 240 million monetizable daily active users as of July last year, according to Reuters. Instagram had more than 2 billion users as of October 2022. Similarweb tweeted that “Traffic to Twitter’s website was down 5% compared with the same days of the previous week, and 11% compared to the same days last year.” The analytics company referred to it as the “Thread effect.”

I joined Threads (you can follow me at LarryMagid) on Day 1, and based on my experience, it feels a lot like Twitter, although still lacking some of Twitter’s features such as direct messaging and hashtags. For me, the biggest drawback is that it only works on mobile. There is no web version. But this is only Threads’ first week. Meta will continue to work on the service and is very likely to introduce all of these – and more – features in the near future. Threads also lacks the ability to edit posts, which has long been possible on Facebook and Instagram and only recently introduced for Twitter users who pay $8 month for verified accounts.

Kinder and gentler place

Some of my fellow Threads users have commented that it’s a kinder and gentler place, lacking the hate speech, threats and vitriol that plague Twitter. My experience on Threads has also been quite positive, but because of who I follow, I personally don’t see that much vitriol on Twitter, unless I go out of my way to look at tweets from controversial figures.

One of the reasons that Threads mostly lacks nasty posts is because it follows Instagram’s Community Guidelines that include a section called “Respect other members of the Instagram community,” banning such things as “credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them, personal information meant to blackmail or harass someone, and repeated unwanted messages.” They also ban any threats or attacks based on “race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disabilities, or diseases.”

Meta isn’t perfect when it comes to enforcing its rules. ConnectSafely, my nonprofit, sometimes hears from people who say they weren’t able to get Meta to take down offensive content that appears to violate their community guidelines. But it employs thousands of moderators around the world along with technology to try to keep up with reports from its billions of users.

Competition, childish behavior and cage fights

Twitter’s reaction to Threads has included threatening legal action, accusing Meta of deliberately hiring former Twitter employees “to develop, in a matter of months, Meta’s copycat ‘Threads’ app with the specific intent that they use Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property in order to accelerate the development of Meta’s competing app.” In response, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone posted on Threads, “No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee — that’s just not a thing.”

But Musk has also responded with childish tweets including “Zuck is a cuck” and a proposal that he and Mark Zuckerberg enter a competition over the size of their genitals. Zuckerberg and Elon Musk had previously agreed to a “cage fight,” and there are reports that Zuckerberg has been seen training with two Ultimate Fighting Champions.

For the most part, my online friends don’t engage in cage fights or name calling, but many have moved to Threads, and based on what they’re posting, most are initially happy with it. I have seen negative comments about it being yet another Meta product by people who are worried about Meta’s privacy history or just skeptical about any service run by this giant social media company that, like Twitter, is controlled by a billionaire.

But maybe it takes a company owned by a fellow billionaire to challenge Elon Musk’s notion of a social media platform that claims to support “free speech” while at the same time at least temporarily banning journalists and others who have criticized him.

I’m not a fan of cage fights, but I do like competition, and in the battle between Threads and Twitter, I’m rooting for kindness and respect, along with spirited debate.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is CEO of ConnectSafely, which receives financial support from Meta. He serves on Meta’s Safety Advisory Council and previously served on Twitter’s safely council until it was disbanded after Musk purchased the company.

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