Is Meta’s new Threads more than a Twitter copycat?

The platform offers its users more text in a post than Twitter, but privacy issues have delayed its EU launch.

Meta launched Threads on July 5, 2023 [Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Meta has officially launched Threads, its text-based rival to Twitter.

The app went live on Wednesday on Apple and Android app stores in more than 100 countries although its release in Europe has been delayed over data privacy concerns.

Despite that, within about 18 hours of its launch it had racked up more than 30 million sign-ups, posing the first real threat to Elon Musk-owned Twitter.

“Let’s do this. Welcome to Threads,” Meta Chief Executive and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in his first post on the new platform, which will run with no ads for now.

Here is what you need to know about the Threads platform:

Is Threads simply a clone of Twitter?

In some ways, yes. Much like Twitter, the new app features short text posts that users can like, share and reply to although some of the wording has been changed with retweets called “reposts” and tweets called “threads”.

Posts can be up to 500 characters long, almost double that of a tweet, and can include links, photos and videos up to five minutes long, according to a Meta blog post.

One major difference from Twitter is Threads does not include any direct messaging capabilities.

The launch of Meta’s new product comes at a time when Musk’s chaotic ownership of Twitter has led to questions about the future of the social media platform. Can Threads become the go-to communication channel for celebrities, companies and politicians?

“It’ll take some time, but I think there should be a public conversations app with one billion+ people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully, we will,” Zuckerberg said in a Threads post.

A spin-off from Instagram

Threads will want Twitter’s audience, and it is no startup. It is built on the back of Instagram, which is owned by Meta, and offers Threads access to a built-in audience of more than 2 billion users, sparing it the challenge of starting from scratch.

Users can log in using their Instagram credentials and follow the same accounts, potentially making it an easy addition to existing habits for Instagram’s users.

In a post published on Thursday, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri said the platform is built for “public conversations” and the company was looking to “bring some of what we’ve built for photos and videos on Instagram to Threads with text”.

He added that Meta hoped people would engage with the platform in “friendly and open” conversations.

Mosseri also said Meta was looking to integrate the ActivityPub protocol, the technology behind the Mastodon server and network, which could potentially enable Instagram users to carry their followers into Threads.

Analysts said investors were excited over the possibility that Threads’ ties to Instagram might give it a built-in user base and advertising apparatus. That could siphon significant advertising revenue from rivals like Twitter.

Privacy issues around Threads

Threads may offer an upgrade on the Twitter experience, but its users’ privacy is significantly less protected than on its rival’s platform.

INTERACTIVE - Threads vs Twitter App privacy-1688628016
(Al Jazeera)

Meta has long been criticised for its handling of personal data, which it uses for targeted ads that help it rake in billions of dollars in profits every quarter.

This has delayed its entry into the European Union market, where there are strict rules designed to guard users’ privacy.

One such rule restricts platforms from transferring personal data between products, which Instagram plans to do with Threads.

Meta was caught transferring data after it bought the messaging app WhatsApp, and European regulators will be on high alert to ensure that the company does not do the same with Threads.

Who has signed up?

Zuckerberg said 5 million users signed up for Threads in the first four hours after its launch.

Accounts were already active for celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Hugh Jackman as well as media outlets, including The Washington Post, Reuters and The Economist.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies