On 5 July, Meta decided to launch its highly anticipated new app Threads, which is reportedly a direct competitor to Twitter. And like virtually everything else these days — from naked dresses to McDonald's Grimace Shake — it quickly divided the internet.
On one side of the debate were people who immediately felt exhausted by the release of yet another social media app. Users of other established social media platforms expressed varying degrees of exhaustion, confusion, and despair at the idea of navigating Threads.
— MB (@bowx_) July 6, 2023
For some, their resistance to the new app had as much, if not more, to do with its creator than with digital burnout. "I don't know. Maybe this isn't the right time to be on a new platform by Zuck since another election is around the corner," wrote @JTaylorSkinner on Twitter, linking to an Atlantic article about Facebook's negative affects on the democratic process in the US.
But others seemed hopeful, even enthusiastic. "Threads feels like the first day of summer camp rn," @lukesawhook wrote on Twitter. "I already like threads more than twitter lol," @pokimanelol posted on Threads itself, earning a chorus of agreements in the comments.
At the risk of losing my journalistic neutrality, I'm willing to state that I fell firmly into the "exhausted" camp. My introduction to Threads looked like this: I downloaded the app, set my profile to private, and opted out of following everyone I already know on Instagram, then followed POPSUGAR and liked all their posts (natch). Immediately after, however, I noticed I'd somehow already racked up dozens of notifications — all follow requests from everyone who follows me on Instagram — at which point I promptly turned the app's notifications off and closed Threads for the night.
Maybe I'm just getting older and beginning my not-so-slow descent into irrelevancy, but the idea of navigating an entirely new social media app feels more stressful than refreshing. Is this how our grandparents felt when we all started using Facebook?
I know I'm not alone in how I feel. "I signed up but I don't plan on using," one POPSUGAR co-worker shared. "I curated Instagram to be a happy dog and cat place, and I intend to keep it that way."
Another editor noted that "it feels overwhelming to have another platform" to have to give time to, when we're already on screens so much as it is. But others disagreed, saying that they're happy to have a "viable alternative to Twitter" and a fresh slate that may prove to be a "better" social media platform.
For what it's worth, that's exactly how Threads is trying to position itself. "Our vision with Threads is to take what Instagram does best and expand that to text, creating a positive and creative space to express your ideas," a Meta press release introducing Threads stated. It went on to list tools the app equips users with in order to "enable positive, productive conversations," including the ability to filter out certain words in replies; unfollow, block, restrict, or report profiles; and control who can mention you or reply to you within the app.
The app is also meant to be compatible with ActivityPub, an open social networking protocol that allows interconnectivity — users on any platform that uses ActivityPub, like WordPress, could share content and interact with each other.
Of course, Threads isn't the first "better" social media app that's been developed in recent years. BeReal was probably the most popular of the recent launches, and was meant to encourage users to post truly authentic pics by forcing them to snap a shot at a random time during the day and simultaneously take a pic with their front and back cameras. But soon enough, the app became another excuse to flex, and after enjoying its moment in the sun, it faded into obscurity. The Gas app was touted as the next big thing, but never quite made its mark.
Still, Threads has some serious juice behind it that these other apps didn't. It was developed by Meta, which owns the perennially popular Facebook and Instagram. And Meta has a way of making users adopt new tech that they're wary about at first. While Instagram Notes didn't necessarily become hugely popular after its December 2022 launch, Instagram Stories hold now as much sway as original feed pics.
Plus, Twitter is in a rocky place. Plenty of people, including many big-name celebs, left Twitter after Elon Musk's controversial acquisition. At least a portion of them may welcome a new alternative that already lives in the same ecosystem as their other often-used apps.
All of this to say: despite my initial hesitance, I reserve the right to fall in love with Threads at a later date, once my favourite social media personalities have dropped a few dozen hilarious posts and the Threads memes really hit their stride. But first, I have to work up the energy to open the app again.