How Mark Zuckerberg’s Threads app went from ‘Twitter Killer’ to reality check, and the Media’s role in shaping perceptions
Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘fantastic’ debut in the microblogging space was thought to spell trouble for Elon Musk’s Twitter. As Instagram’s text-based social-media platform, Threads garnered over 30 million users after its debut, it appeared to be a potent threat to Twitter, which is the premier networking platform for the purported intellectual and social elite of the world.
Elon Musk took over Twitter in October 2022 in a $44 billion deal. Musk tweeted ‘The Bird is Freed’ and ‘Let the good times roll’ on the platform to make his entrance as the new Twitter Boss! Fast forward to July 2023, Twitter gets rebranded as “X” and Instagram rolled out the “Threads app“, a potential Twitter killer. But, is it though?
Prior to its official debut, the app garnered an unprecedented wave of media excitement, marking a groundbreaking moment in the world of social media. Instead of highlighting its features and exclusivity, the media christened it as the ‘Twitter Killer,’ emphasizing its potential impact. Guardian’s article of July 4, 2023 (two days before the official launch of the app) jots down the criticism of Twitter and highlights the problems with the app with Musk taking over the social-media platform with one of the issues being far-right accounts resumed by him. “Musk’s moderation decisions, including lifting bans on far-right accounts, and the site’s increasing instability has been a turn-off for advertisers, who have paused or reduced spending in the past few months.” Better late than never, Guardian admits that the initial thrill has steadily waned in their piece “Threads app usage plummets despite initial promise as a refuge from Twitter”
IGN on July 5 (a day before the launch of the app) published an article on how Meta’s Threads is gearing to take up on Twitter which is already undergoing “a tumultuous time under CEO Elon Musk” Forbes on July 5, almost announced the farewell of Twitter through its article “Leaving Elon Musk’s Twitter? Here Are Some Alternatives, From Meta Threads To Mastodon To Bluesky” which later that day changed to “Meta Officially Launches Threads—Challenging Elon Musk And Twitter.” Seems like the news portal could not contain its excitement to establish Twitter as the make-believe opponent for the app which was not even launched then. Remarkably, all the commotion was generated without anyone actually using the application or witnessing it firsthand. Thinking of Threads in a purely positive light is a result of media bias. It was not our original thought. None of us had used the app then. It is something we were convinced of when our media was inundated with positive commentary towards it which created a false consensus.
Undoubtedly, Threads stormed onto the scene, sparking widespread intrigue and positioning itself as the next must-have app for all. Expectations soared, only to crumble into disappointment. A week after the launch, Data.ai had written, “Meta’s new microblogging social app Threads has set the bar so high for new mobile software product launches that it’s not likely to be surpassed for many quarters, or even years. Within seven days (of its launch), the app has amassed a staggering download count totaling more than 150 million worldwide. It did so 5.5 times faster than the second-fastest to that point, Niantic’s Pokémon GO, which has held the largest app launch title since it debuted in July 2016.”
But for the media, Threads surfaced as an arch-rival of Twitter. Despite focusing on the features of the application, they shed light on how this will bring down Twitter, forgetting the fact that Twitter has 237.8 million monetizable daily active users. This number was just 115 million in 2017. “The extensive media anticipation had elevated the level of expectations, yet regrettably, the application could not meet the substantial publicity generated by the media.” While a strong start made Threads a contender among possible Twitter competitors, daily active users dropped from 49 million to 23.6 million in a week.
It became apparent that the buzz surrounding Threads primarily served to disparage X (formerly Twitter), particularly in light of Musk assuming control of the platform. However, no matter the razzmatazz, the numbers echo altogether a different tale. X has around 528.3 million monetizable monthly active users as of 2023. It is estimated that this number will reach 652.23 million by 2028. According to the most recent data, there are 130 million Threads users. But growth has slowed down significantly. It took the platform 4 days and 6 hours to reach 100 million users. In the 58 days since the 100 million users mark, the platform has only added an additional 30 million users. When it comes to advertising, people spend 26% more time viewing advertisements on Twitter as compared to other platforms.
The ballyhoo around Meta’s subsidiary soon died its slow death and the media compass shifted gradually but certainly. To quote a headline from CBS News “Threads loses half its users after a massive surge at launch” There’s little doubt that Threads briefly captured a big chunk of Twitter’s market initially but the euphoria was short-lived.
Here’s a snapshot of how the two compared during the initial rush of excitement and the days after.
Looking at the news covered by the prominent Indian newspaper The Hindu will give us a broader perspective.
On July 7, “Meta’s Threads signs up 30 million users, in a clear threat to Musk-owned Twitter”
On July 10, “Threads’ soaring popularity puts a dent in Twitter’s traffic.”
On July 11, “Threads Review | Meta’s new app wears Twitter’s skin but lacks its teeth.”
The transition within days without any logical basis or steady numbers shows the apparent biases for the newly launched app. It becomes significant to note that the majority of headlines concerning the launch of the Threads have used ‘Twitter’ in their headlines.
Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk’s long-standing rivalry, which became a literal cage fight in the last months, has culminated in Threads, a Twitter copycat for all intents and purposes. Many experts have quite dramatically monickered Zuckerberg’s Threads app as the replacement for Twitter. The Verge with regard to the cage fight wrote “Mark Zuckerberg is the overwhelming favorite to beat Elon Musk in a cage match.” In recent months, many rivals for the Bird app have tried and failed to do so, including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s Bluesky, Donald Trump’s Truth Social, Clubhouse, and many more. Threads has given the strongest debut of all its competitors, gathering 10 million subscribers in 7 hours, with many more of Instagram’s 2.35 billion odd user base likely to transition to the app. Popularly dubbed as “Twitter’s standalone rival”, Threads is accessible in over 100 countries.
Washington Post in their article writes “Twitter, for most of its 17-year life, has been an underperforming social network that die-hards believed was one trick away from breaking into the mainstream. Twitter remains an underperformer” and “Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and (sort of) Snapchat remain the only social networks that matter in most of the world.” outrightly denying the massive foothold of Twitter across the social domain.
News platforms across the world intensively covered how the threads crossed the milestone of 100 million users in five days. The articles revolved around the idea of how Threads came up as a relief from the dreadful Twitter, the numerous problems it had, and how Threads has been hugely successful against its rival.
The Economic Times, which initially expressed confidence on July 6 that Meta’s Threads posed a substantial challenge to Twitter, began to cast doubt on its own certainty by August 4, 2023.
Amidst the massive hype, ET finally admits that the platform was not worth the frenzy that it received just because it came as a rival platform to Twitter.
The graph below shows the engagement of the keyword ‘Instagram Threads’ over the past week.
Washington Post in its story of July 7 outrightly writes that there are only 5 social media platforms that actually matter and Twitter isn’t one of them. In the thumbnail of the piece, Mark Zuckerberg could be seen pasting the logo of Threads over the X (formerly Twitter) logo.
After that spectacular initial sign-up period in July, Threads usage dropped off precipitously. New data from market intelligence firm Sensor Tower suggests that daily active users are down more than 60 percent from their first-week average. Threads amassed 44 million daily active users during its launch peak, then saw usage drop to a low of 7 million DAUs in late July. As of mid-August, the app has seen increases of 11 million DAUs, Sensor Tower analysts say. However, time spent on the app per daily active user has also fallen, the firm says. Meta even rolled out the web version of the app in August to keep up with X but in vain.
The media has never been kind to Musk and its bias is explicit. The New Yorker titled their article ‘How Elon Musk Went From Superhero to Supervillain’ to which Musk later took a dig. The Independent says “How do we stop Elon Musk from becoming a supervillain? It’s pretty simple.” The Atlantic thought of “Demon Mode Activated” as the apt headline for their piece on Technology. The context was with regard to the biography of Musk by author Walter Isascson, but to a layman who had never heard of the book, the headline would work as a negative bias. Later, Elon Musk’s dad Errol slammed a bombshell new book that paints him as a psychotic ‘villain’ with ‘demonic powers’
The Wall Street Journal has described him as suffering from “tantrums.” The Independent has alleged that selling Twitter to Musk was “like handing a toddler a loaded gun.” When it comes to a comparison between Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, Zuckerberg is obviously their darling.
On December 3, 2022, Elon Musk exposed a massive bombshell about interference in the 2020 Election and Twitter’s censorship of the NY Post’s story on Hunter Biden’s laptop. However, The New York Times skipped the explosive story from their front page the next day.
Not only bias but the media has contradicted their statements after the drooping numbers on Threads. Associated Press on July 6, 2023, claimed Twitter as the immediate and foremost rival of Threads in their piece “What is Threads? All your questions about Meta’s new Twitter rival, answered” but it did not take much time for them to change their stance to “For Mark Zuckerberg’s Threads, the real rival is still TikTok — not the former Twitter” on August 15, 2023.
Seeing the gradual progression of the stories covered by Fortune, one would observe the obsession with Twitter. With time, the excitement of the media withered into disappointment and it became difficult even for them to continue being the silent PR of the application which they have been for long. The euphoria that started with ‘Twitter Killer’ and ‘replacement of metaverse’ stooped to ‘retention-driven hooks to keep users engaged.’
Threads gained momentum and popularity more so as a rival of Twitter than having an exclusive identity in the social market.
It would be an understatement to say that The Politico did not politicize the launch of the Threads while writing “Threads is already home to a host of prominent British political tweeters seeking sanctuary from Elon Musk’s troubled platform. And, with the app remaining off-limits in the European Union amid competition concerns, there was plenty of room for gloating about a supposed Brexit dividend.” It’s not the first time that Politico did this. They did it in 2022 through their article “Elon Musk Has Become the Villain Liberals Always Imagined Him to Be”
Even after the unpopular Mark Zuckerberg lawsuit alleging the world’s largest social network service allowed millions of its users’ personal information to be fed to Cambridge Analytica, a firm that supported Donald Trump’s victorious presidential campaign in 2016, Forbes created a hero out of him and wrote “Why Mark Zuckerberg—And George Soros—Are Actually Conservative Heroes,” Politico in their piece “Why the right wing has a massive advantage on Facebook” did not even once mention how Facebook is a ‘troubled platform’ as was case with Twitter. The media’s response is also said to be particularly pronounced against Musk due to his robust advocacy against ongoing media bias. In December 2022 Elon Musk reinstated a number of previously banned Twitter accounts, including a few that were banned for speech about transgender issues. Media coverage from some outlets showed a strong bias against Musk’s decision. The Washington Post and Axios quoted only activists on the left and people who do not support Musk’s move and did not quote anyone who believes it is a positive development. The Post piece by journalist Taylor Lorenz quotes seven people who are concerned about Musk’s move, including a journalist who tweeted to Musk that he will have “blood on [his] hands.” The Post also used subjective qualifying adjectives in its piece, which is a type of media bias in which journalists use adjectives to qualify a noun, suggesting a way for you to think about or interpret the issue instead of just giving you the facts and letting you make judgments for yourself.
To announce the launch of the app, almost all the media portals quoted ‘Twitter’ in their headlines. CNBC used terminology like “highly anticipated Twitter rival”, “Twitter’s problems’ and “Twitter’s loosening content” in their article. The Verge had written “If you want to bail on Twitter, you might not have to wait long to download Instagram Threads” in their piece which lists out the problems with Twitter rather than features of the Threads. Forbes wrote about “the sheer number of unforced errors Twitter has experienced over the weekend.” Thus, everyone including the media expected the platform to ace the charts by default for reasons unknown. This was not based on any factual evidence or reasoning but bias.
In conclusion, the media’s handling of Meta’s Threads, prior to its release, sheds a revealing light on the dynamics of the tech industry and the power of narratives that shape our perceptions. Yet, as we’ve examined, it often appeared to be less about celebrating a new innovation and more about undermining its competition, Twitter. This case serves as a vivid reminder of the power of media narratives and the strategic maneuvers within the tech industry. It underscores the importance of discernment as consumers and the need for open, unbiased discussions about technological advancements. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, it’s crucial that we approach each new development with a critical eye, valuing innovation while holding all players accountable for their actions and intentions.
The thoughts and opinions expressed in this are those of the author and not necessarily WeThePress.