What we love and hate about Threads, Meta’s new Twitter clone

Threads may be the first Twitter alternative that really matters because it’s built on top of Instagram’s existing base of billions of users

(Washington Post illustration; Meta)
9 min

Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled Threads, a clone of Twitter designed to lure people turned off by the social network’s changes under owner Elon Musk.

And in its first five days, 100 million people signed up for the free app. The billionaire social media smackdown is about to get real.

What does Threads mean for you — and should you join in the rain on Musk’s parade?

On the one hand, Threads has a decent chance of becoming a — maybe even the — major new hub for text-based online conversations. Unlike other would-be Twitter rivals Bluesky and Mastodon, Threads arrives with a potential audience of billions who already use Meta’s photo and video-oriented Instagram, which Threads is built on top of. Meta says it’s taking moderation seriously to make Threads a safer place for us (and eventually advertisers). Zuckerberg, too, is less inclined than Musk to put his foot in his mouth.

But Threads also comes with a whole host of Meta baggage, including questionable privacy practices, opaque algorithms and Big Tech monopoly power. Many of those issues have turned people off Zuckerberg’s other social networks such as Facebook. And those issues are all still present in Threads. For example, from the moment you first log in to Threads, it starts showing you recommended posts from accounts and brands you don’t necessarily follow — or necessarily even care to see.

What’s to like — and dislike — in Threads? And how do you give it a try? Answers below. , . Send us an email about what else you would like to know.

Getting on Threads is simple

You’ll need to have an Instagram account to sign up for Threads. Then you can download the Threads app for iOS or Android to set up your account. You’ll use the same name for your Threads account as you do on Instagram.

When you first use the app, you’ll be given the option to automatically follow all of the same accounts you follow on Instagram — or just select some of them. We’re curious to see how this plays out: How much overlap is there between accounts you follow on Instagram for their epic photographs with accounts you want to read for their text or hot takes on politics and TV?

Why Threads has a shot, but only 5 social media platforms actually matter

That system also means your existing Instagram friends and followers don’t automatically follow you on Threads. You’ll have to build up that audience all over again.

And one other thing to note: At launch, Threads isn’t available in Europe, where the Irish Data Protection Commission recently hit Meta with a record $1.3 billion fine for breaking its privacy rules. The region’s new Digital Markets Act also puts some of the Meta’s data-sharing and privacy practices into question.

Meta has been criticized for its invasive privacy policies. The Post’s tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler explains how Meta’s new app, Threads, deserves scrutiny. (Video: Jonathan Baran/The Washington Post)

It works a lot like Twitter

Meta bent over backward to tell us Threads is not a Twitter clone. “Threads is a new app that’s focused on text and dialogue. And the way that we think about this is we’re modeling it after what Instagram has done for photo and video,” said Connor Hayes, a Meta product vice president.

But in many ways, Threads works exactly like Twitter. It’s primarily oriented around text conversations, and your posts — called “threads” — are limited to 500 characters each. You mention other people in threads by using the @ symbol in front of their username, and can reply to someone else’s posts. You can also quote or retweet — erm, “repost” — someone else’s threads by clicking a button. (So should we call a thread of threads … a knit?)

You can include photos and videos in Threads, but they don’t show up as Instagram posts or Reels. You can also share Instagram photos and videos on Reels, but they show up just as regular links. There aren’t native integrations between the two apps.

What’s different from Twitter? There’s no separate direct messaging function at launch. And you have a bit more control over the audience who can see what you post.

And unlike Twitter, Threads also has no hashtag or trending-topics function, and there’s no way to edit threads once you’ve posted them.

You can’t take your Twitter friends with you

Many Twitter users spent years curating the list of accounts to follow over on the bird app. But so far there’s no easy way to port that list into Threads.

Blame a lack of interoperability. Despite the complaints of consumer advocates and some lawmakers, Big Tech companies have largely resisted calls to make their products work easily with each other. (Example No. 1: Apple’s iPhone.) The companies have little incentive to make it easy for you to quit.

It’s possible that someone will figure out a hack that makes this possible. Or hopefully Meta will open up technology on its side that allows you to import follower lists.

Your feed is chosen by an algorithm, not you

When you open the Threads app, you’re thrown into a feed of threads that’s a mix of accounts you’ve chosen to follow and algorithmically generated suggestions. Some of the people who are already on Threads include singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and social activist Malala Yousafzai, along with entertainment brands such as Netflix and Bravo TV.

But there’s no way to make Threads show you only the posts from accounts you’ve chosen to follow and no way to clear the home screen of Threads from people you didn’t select. In a thread, Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri said a follower-only list was on the company’s to-do list. Mosseri also said you can stop seeing Threads from a particular account by “muting” it, an option available behind the three-dots menu at the top right of each post.

There’s also no way to make your feed ordered chronologically — instead, it’s organized by what the Threads algorithm thinks you might find most interesting.

It’s just as bad for your privacy as Facebook

Like Twitter, Threads accounts can be either public or private. On a public post, you can also adjust the groups who can reply to everyone, only the accounts you follow or just the ones you mention in the post.

Having said that, Threads is just as hungry for your personal data as Facebook and Instagram are. Patrick Jackson of privacy tech company Disconnect says he’s found the Threads app gobbling data you might not expect, including details of your phone (model number, screen resolution and time zone) and identifiers such as a timestamp for when you installed the app.

You should also assume that when you sign up for a Threads account, Meta has access to everything Facebook and Instagram have learned about you over the years — on and off its apps — to target ads and tailor your experience.

There are no ads (so far)

At launch, Threads has no ads. But don’t expect it to stay that way. Meta, which makes the vast majority of its revenue from tracking what users do online and using it to target them with ads, says it may open the door to ads in the future.

Meta says it takes safety seriously, but time will tell

Meta says safety is an advantage it has vs. Twitter. Threads will apply the same content rules that exist on Instagram. That means users on Threads aren’t supposed to be able to praise terrorist or hate groups, buy firearms or make threats against people or groups.

That said, even in the first few hours of Threads, users reported examples to us of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric on the network — with mixed success at getting it taken down.

And keep in mind: Any user who is allowed to be on Instagram will be allowed to be on Threads. Earlier this year, Meta reinstated Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following a two-year suspension, so he’d be welcome on Threads.

There are some protections for children. Users under 16 are automatically defaulted into a private account. And Threads will allow users to limit replies to their threads to only people that they follow or mentioned in the thread.

Threads wants to make life easier for creators

Meta says that Threads will lower the risk for creators who want to try a new text-based social media app but don’t want to have to put in all the work it takes to build a new following from scratch. Instead, they can encourage their fan base on Instagram to join Threads to start. But users will still have to opt in to follow their favorite creators on Threads, and there is no guarantee that every creator’s followers will be interested in the new app.

“My guess is that there’s going to be a bunch of people that end up being very successful on Threads who you wouldn’t really expect,” Meta’s Hayes said. “You might look at them now as a visual content creator, but they have a lot of great things to say they just haven’t had the place to say them. And our hope is that Threads can be that place.”

There’s hope Threads will join the open fediverse

Meta says that it has plans to make Threads compatible with the so-called fediverse, meaning it would work along with other decentralized social networks such as Mastodon. (To do this, Meta has committed to an industry protocol called ActivityPub.) That could be revolutionary for the industry, but Silicon Valley doesn’t have a great track record with actually making things work together.

Be careful before you delete it

You can only delete and deactivate your Threads account by deleting your entire Instagram account.

In its privacy policy, Meta states: “You may deactivate your Threads profile at any time, but your Threads profile can only be deleted by deleting your Instagram account.”

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