Simon Hunt

Why Threads is failing to win over Twitter users

Elon Musk (Credit: Getty images)

When Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta released Threads earlier this month, it looked to be the biggest threat to Twitter in the app’s 17-year history. Over 100 million people signed up within days, a lightning-fast adoption rate that made ChatGPT’s four-week timescale to hit the same milestone seem sluggish. But that threat now appears to be rapidly tailing off.

The number of daily active users on the text-based social media app has more than halved from 49 million to 23.6 million in a week, according to an analysis by Similarweb. Last Friday, the number of people using Threads dipped to around 22 per cent of Twitter’s audience, down from its peak a week before of 45 per cent. Is Zuck in danger of losing his fight with Twitter’s owner Elon Musk already?

Encouraging people to switch products requires having a better offering. This logic applies in much the same way as when buying a new car, swapping phone provider or changing TV subscription. But Threads version 1 is still missing basic Twitter features like a direct messages function, and a ‘for you’ tab so users have control over what they consume.

For Threads to emerge as Twitter’s likely successor, it needs to come up with a winning formula

Threads rolled out the red carpet for Instagram users by letting them use their pre-existing accounts to join the site, but no one else. That means the content there is being driven by those who are big on Insta, like influencers and celebs. People who may be good with pictures, but less good with words (as my dyslexic painter mother, who has amassed a reasonably big following on Instagram, can attest). The quality of the writing pales in comparison to Twitter, which is packed with journalists and authors.

There’s another factor at play, too. Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has said he’s ‘not going to do anything to encourage’ the promotion of ‘politics and hard news’ on Threads, because he wants to build ‘a less angry place for conversations’.

A charitable reading of Mosseri’s plan is that he hopes to move Threads away from the cesspit of vitriolic, disinformation-filled exchanges that Twitter users have become all-too familiar with.

On closer inspection, though, this could have a lot more to do with money. A few weeks ago, Threads owner Meta threatened to withdraw news content from Facebook users’ feeds in Canada over the introduction of the controversial Online News Act, or Bill C-18, which would charge social media companies each time an article was shared on its platform.

If Threads deprioritises news content, but remains popular with users, that could prove a very useful bargaining tool in convincing Canadian lawmakers to amend or even scrap the Bill. Or if they don’t, it’s a handy statistic to reassure investors that social media can survive without journalism.

But as Mosseri is quickly discovering, news matters. There’s very little you can talk about in ‘conversations’ if the day’s events are off the table.

On Saturday, to prove Twitter was going nowhere fast, Elon Musk published a table showing platform usage had risen 3.5 per cent in a week. Usage shot up 7.6 per cent in the UK, the highest of any major territory. Was that because Brits suddenly rediscovered their love for the Bird app? No, it was because the Huw Edwards saga broke, and everyone piled in to either say they were appalled or to rush to his defence.

Look at the trending list on Twitter and it’s a near mirror-image of the front page of the BBC website or any major newspaper. News is a huge driver of traffic. After flirting with banning Substack links on Twitter, Musk gets that.

That’s not to say Twitter hasn’t become a shadow of its former self; the site is clearing suffering under its new owner. But for Threads to emerge as its likely successor, it needs to come up with a winning formula that cherry-picks the best of Twitter, rather than distances itself from everything that made it popular. There’s some hard news that Musk and Mosseri can’t ignore.