Threads Tested: Pros and Cons of Meta Twitter | Technology

Mark Zuckerberg smelled blood when Elon Musk took over Twitter. The co-founder of Tesla and SpaceX replaced the happy little blue bird with a black X, a mutation which also serves as a metaphor for what the platform has become. Musk fired 80% of the staff and followed erratic management that affected the quality of the social network. Zuck was able to read the discontent of many tweeters and decided to try to capitalize on it from Meta. This is how Threads was born, available since July in the United States. In Europe arrived two weeks ago.

The release of Threads further fueled tensions between the two moguls. It reached 100 million users in five days, a figure comparable to ChatGPT, the most successful app in history. But progress slowed and, almost six months later, it has accumulated 141 million users, according to figures maintained by consultancies (Meta declined this newspaper’s request to share its figures). Musk threatened to sue Zuckerberg for plagiarism and for hiring former X employees, whom he had fired anyway. They even challenged each other to a public fight, an option they nursed for months and which, obviously, eventually fizzled out.

Of course, Musk is right: Threads looks like a copy of X. But is that really the case?

I tested the new Meta social network for a week. Before recounting what I found, one consideration. There are many types of social media users. I am rather passive: I write little, I read a lot. Would you have had a very different experience if you had been more active? It’s not clear, and I hope this analysis makes it clear why.

1. Getting started

The first task is to open an account. Threads offers the possibility of associating it with Instagram or creating a new one, but with fewer features: you can view content, share it and search for accounts, but not interact with them. I wasn’t an Instagram user, which I remedied so my chats weren’t limited.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, announces the arrival of Threads in Europe.

The association of Threads with Instagram gives it a gigantic potential user base (2,000 million users compared to 550 for X). It also allows Instagram users to export the accounts they follow to Threads. As I am a newcomer to both platforms, I have to search them one by one. I’m also not sure if I’m missing out on much by not being able to do this transfer. On Instagram, you mainly share photos and videos. Am I interested in the text that profiles I don’t follow can provide because of their prose? Probably not.

2. A family environment

The first few times you enter Threads, it feels like you’re in X, especially if you’re accessing it from your mobile. The interface is a bit cleaner and tidier. The buttons and functions are virtually identical to those of the X.

However, as soon as you start using it, you realize that you are on a different platform. There’s no hashtags, or thematic groupings, which can make the search more complicated depending on the elements. You also can’t send direct messages, at least for now. If you want to communicate with a contact, everyone sees it. In each thread Up to 500 characters can be inserted, compared to 280 for X.

Another key difference with X is that the content is more curated: there is more intervention from the algorithm, which serves you content more related to your interests. One of the particularities of food, what you see are tweets from accounts you follow in strict reverse chronological order. As soon as you enter scroll. This is particularly useful, for example, when following live coverage: there’s no way to lose the timeline. It’s perfect for media and journalists.

In Threads, what you see when you open the app is not the latest, but what the algorithm understands and matters most to you, whether it was posted 10 minutes ago or six hours ago. It doesn’t have to be bad. Improves the diffusion capacity of influencers and the most followed accounts, but this also makes the feeds itself users are more similar than those of X. And stories constructed chronologically are more difficult to follow.

3. What content is in Threads?

I open the discussions. A monkey saves a kitten stuck in a well. I open X. The El Corte Inglés account tells me how much the latest Apple Watch is selling for; At the bottom of the tweet, I am informed that this is “promoted” content. We tried a little later. Subjects: a girl in a miniskirt and heels juggles a soccer ball worthy of the best Ronaldinho. X: the magazine Foreign Affairs shows an article about Javier Milei and what his new president can mean for Argentina. New try. Discussions: A series of kittens destroy the Christmas trees in their respective homes. X: I was caught up in a discussion among some of the considered godfathers of artificial intelligence about whether or not this technology should be regulated.

This may seem trivial, but these examples summarize a good part of last week’s experience with these social networks. Threads currently serves me viral and superficial content, the exact opposite of what I look for in social media. Of course: no advertising, one of the scourges of X since Musk launched subscriptions (I’m one of those who don’t pay).

Threads app interface in Spanish.

Overall, old Twitter remains the space where interesting discussions take place. The level of service has dropped and the tension has risen, but everyone is still there. Twitter has managed to become the great digital agora of our days. Right now, it’s hard to believe that tweeters are migrating to another platform. Everything will be seen.

4. The porn test

The discussions are free and there are no advertisements. And it has another big advantage over the current X: there is content moderation. According to Meta sources, Threads is subject to the same controls as Instagram, which combines automatic tools (engines machine learning, or machine learning, which looks for inappropriate content to block it) and human supervision (users can report posts, which will be manually reviewed and removed if necessary) to combat hate speech and other illegal content. If someone repeatedly violates the rules, their account will be closed.

Meta is the first to be interested in the cleanliness of Threads, after being accused of spreading disinformation via Facebook and Instagram (Russian agents used them to influence the 2016 presidential elections) or of being a key tool in the Rohingya genocide.

Discussions flag potentially harmful content.

The result is striking. It is difficult to find content to report. If you search Threads for “pizzagate,” the wild conspiracy theory launched in 2016 that members of the Democratic Party had an alleged human trafficking and child exploitation ring that operated in basements and restaurants, we’ll see a warning: “This search may be linked to harmful content,” and a link to a page that explains what QAnon is and why it’s problematic. Doing the same search in X brings up dozens of accounts that support and power the pizza holder.

But the litmus test for whether a social network is broken or not is whether it allows pornography. In Threads, this search returns no results. In X, simply type the keyword to find explicit sex films up to two hours long. Since purchasing Twitter, Musk has assured that there will be no censorship of any kind on his platform. The decision to allow pornography cost it money, driving away advertisers looking to invest in family-friendly environments.

On all social networks, we find content of women and men (mainly the former) showing their bodies in a suggestive way. Discussions are no exception. But X is on another level.

5. Verification, misinformation and trolls

The rarity of trolls and bots is striking, a real scourge on social networks. It is also possible that, since there are not as many accounts nor as influential as on X (the most followed on Threads is Neymar Jr, with 11 million); on efforts on more consolidated platforms.

When you want to follow a profile that Meta has identified as generating misinformation, a warning appears: “Are you sure you want to follow” this person? “This account has repeatedly posted false information that was reviewed by independent fact-checkers or went against our community guidelines.” This is unthinkable today under X.

Getting the blue seal in Threads, like in X, is worth money. The verification that the user obtains on Instagram can be brought to Threads, for which he must pass a review by the platform and pay a monthly subscription of at least $11.99. X’s costs 19.36 euros per month and does not require any examination.

6. So…

Threads is technically a good platform. We cannot hide that it is an imitation of X, which is not new: Bluesky, Mastodon or even Truth Social, Donald Trump’s platform, are copies of the original Twitter. It has things that were previously in X that we now lack, like consistent content moderation. And above all the potential to attract 2 billion users of Instagram, its sister social network.

But it lacks something fundamental: people. Perhaps for this reason, and because of the structure of the platform itself, which gives a little more priority to the algorithm, it is difficult to find really interesting topics on Threads. It is too early to evaluate him, he has only been in Spain and Europe for two weeks. Time will tell if this is another copy of the old Twitter or if we are facing its generational change. Yes, young people demand this type of social network.

You can follow EL PAÍS Technology In Facebook And X or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.

Limited time special offer

Subscribe to continue reading

Read without limits