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Sunday, June 16, 2024

After Threads, There Has to Be a ‘New Twitter’ Moratorium

This week, Meta rolled out a new microblogging service called Threads, joining the increasingly crowded field of platforms trying to replace Twitter.

On Wednesday, Threads' launch day, Mark Zuckerberg posted about his desire to usurp Elon Musk’s broken social network: “I think there should be a public conversations app with 1 billion+ people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it,” he wrote. “Hopefully we will.”

Meta will have to beat a throng of other would-be Twitter killers, including Bluesky, Mastodon, Post News, Spoutible, Cohost, Hive Social, T2 Social, and Spill, in addition to conversation platforms aimed at right-wing users, like Truth Social, Gettr, and Gab, as well as established social networks now courting disenchanted Twitter users, like Tumblr and Substack.

Threads may be slightly late to the party, but it does have a distinct advantage: It is tightly integrated with Instagram, which remains enormously popular. Joining Threads is familiar and simple—it appears precision-designed to be easy enough for any Facebook-using Boomer to grasp—especially compared with rivals like Mastodon, which requires users to pick a “federation” to join, or Bluesky, which is still invite-only, requiring aspiring skeeters to scrounge up an access code to join. In contrast, if you know how to log on to Instagram, you know how to use Threads. You can keep the same handle and port over your followers, too.

The appeal of jumping onto a new platform without starting from scratch is considerable. Brands and influencers value these digital spaces for growing their audiences, so making a version preloaded with an audience from another social network is ideal. Plus, even regular people don’t love the feeling of logging on to a platform where their follower count hovers around zero. Zuckerberg claims more than 30 million people joined Threads in its first 24 hours; even if he is exaggerating by half, it would still mean Threads is leapfrogging over other alternatives in terms of sheer volume of sign-ups.

Then again, early reviews from extremely online types are overwhelmingly negative. (​​“It is funny that Zuck rolled out a Twitter Killer and it took less than 24h for everyone to decide it is irrevocably Ass,” writer Noah Kulwin tweeted, summarizing the mood.) So there’s no guarantee the early adopters on Threads will stick around. Like Meta’s ersatz TikTok copycat, Reels, the platform could become a dupe for dorks, destined to fester in the shadow of its original. 

And getting people to sign up is just the first step. While Threads has already proved adept at coaxing celebrities and brands onboard, big names and big corporations don’t necessarily translate to a lively conversation. In fact, they may create a dull, antiseptic environment, a community of brand managers trading workshopped puns back and forth from their verified accounts.

It’s far too soon to say whether Threads will take off. Or, for that matter, whether any of these competitors can scale into real Twitter substitutes. What is painfully clear is that we, the people of the internet, need to draw a line in the sand. Then we need to dump concrete into that line so it cannot be swiftly eroded by waves, or whatever.

This is a call for a moratorium. No more Twitter replacements. Don’t sign up for any of them!

No one can stop tech companies from launching new platforms. But people can refuse to join. It’s obnoxious enough to toggle between microblogging apps, tweeting and skeeting and tooting the same words to slightly different audiences. Adding threading to the mix is too much. I’ve already seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, copying and pasting to skeet a tweet. It’s no way to live.

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Replicating the dynamic Twitter cultivated is unlikely. It’ll be flat-out impossible if these clones keep coming, fracturing the global conversation Twitter presented at its best into dozens of inferior smaller channels, none able to achieve the network effect necessary to function as a true hub for public discourse—or even just a fun place to shitpost. None of the current substitutes is perfect, but diluting the pool further will only weaken our existing options. I’d like to see Twitter restored to its pre-Musk functionality—but if that’s not going to happen, I’d rather pick one of the many wannabe water coolers I’ve already downloaded instead of cycling through imitator after imitator.

The age of platforms is waning. Each time a new knockoff appears to approximate what Twitter used to be, we only get further from fixing it.

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