Threads: Instagram launches app to compete with Twitter

  • By Chris Vallance & James Clayton
  • Technology reporters, BBC News

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the company’s newly launched Threads app aims to overtake Twitter.

Experts say the threads could attract Twitter users unhappy with the site’s recent changes.

Threads – currently not launched in the EU – allows users to post up to 500 characters, and has many Twitter-like features.

The app passed 10 million signups in its first seven hours, Mr Zuckerberg said.

Earlier, he said, “keeping the site friendly … will ultimately be key to its success.”

But Twitter CEO Elon Musk responded: “It’s infinitely better to be attacked by strangers on Twitter than to indulge in the false joy of hiding Instagram pain.”

When asked in Threads if the app would be “bigger than Twitter,” Mr Zuckerberg said: “It will take some time, but I think there should be a public conversation app with over 1 billion people.

“Twitter has had an opportunity to do this, but hasn’t. We hope we do.”

Competitors have criticized the amount of data the app can use. According to the Apple App Store, this includes health, financial and browsing data tied to users’ identities.

Threads is now available for download in more than 100 countries, including the UK, but not yet in the EU due to regulatory concerns.

‘early version’

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, called the new app an “initial version,” with additional features planned, including the ability to interact with people on other social media apps like Mastodon.

“Our vision with Texts is to take what Instagram does best and expand it into text,” the company said before the launch.

Although Threads is a standalone app, users log in using an Instagram account. Their Instagram username remains, but there is an option to customize their profile specifically for threads.

Meta says users will be able to choose to follow the same accounts as they do on Instagram. The app allows users to be private on Instagram, but public on threads.

The launch of the new app comes after criticism of Meta’s business practices.

Last year, Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen criticized the company for putting “profit over security” and how the platform was moderate.

The company was rocked by a scandal that allowed third parties, including British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, to access personal data of Facebook users.

In an apparent reference to this controversial past, Mr Musk joked on Monday that “thankfully they run very honestly”.

There are many alternatives to Twitter such as Bluesky and Mastodon, but these are struggling to gain traction.

Threads has a significant advantage because it is tied to Instagram, and that platform already has hundreds of millions of users.

How do threads work?

In threads, posts can be shared on Instagram and vice versa and can include links, photos and videos up to five minutes in length.

However, some early users reported problems uploading images on Wednesday, citing teething problems.

Users see a feed of posts, which Meta calls “threads,” from people they follow and recommended content.

They can control who can “mention” them and filter replies to posts containing specific words.

It is possible to unfollow, block, limit or report other profiles, and any accounts that users block on Instagram are automatically blocked in threads.

While Meta has emphasized its ties to Instagram, media coverage has focused on its similarities to Twitter, with some investors describing the app as a “Twitter killer.”

image caption,

Posts can be shared between threads and Instagram and can include links, photos and videos

It was Mr Musk’s latest push to sign up users to Twitter Blue, the platform’s subscription service.

Twitter has announced that its popular user dashboard TweetDeck will go behind a paywall in 30 days.

Since Mr Musk took over, many Twitter users have publicly expressed their displeasure with the platform and his stewardship – citing erratic behavior and political views.

Last month, Mr Musk and Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg agreed to cage fight – perhaps jokingly – and Mr Zuckerberg’s early posts on Threads indicated his interest in mixed martial arts.

Although Threads is available in the UK, it is not yet available in the EU due to regulatory uncertainty, particularly the EU’s Digital Markets Act.

But the company says it is looking at launching in the EU.

That law sets rules for how big companies like Meta can share data between the platforms they own. Part of the problem is sharing data between threads and Instagram.

Meta maintains that protecting privacy is fundamental to its business.

Additional reporting by Max Matza and George Bowden

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