Well, my phone keeps buzzing with new followers. It’s a sound that’s become all too familiar in this age of social media, but this time, it’s different. This time, it’s not Twitter, Instagram, or even Facebook. It’s Threads, the new kid on the block, and it’s causing quite a stir.
Threads is here, and it’s Twitter, but on Instagram. If that makes sense to you, then you’re likely the target audience for Threads: people who enjoy publishing text posts on the internet but have concerns about the current state of social media. Threads might bring excitement, even hope to those who have benefited from posting short bits of online text to the world—journalists, influencers, brands, and more. But those feelings may be misguided. Social media cannot become good again, because we will not let it evolve. It can merely live and die over and over, like a zombie.
The backstory of Threads is a tale of tech evolution. Twitter, started in 2006 by a handful of already successful tech entrepreneurs, was a novel idea: a platform for posting short textual quips. It was a departure from the commitment-heavy blogging of the time, and it was different from the semi-private nature of email and Facebook. But Twitter never thrived like its social-media cousins. Facebook became a behemoth, absorbing Instagram, which swelled to 2 billion users, and WhatsApp.
Then, last year, Elon Musk bought Twitter and started dismantling the place. Users longed to recover stability or eschew toxicity, as if those properties had ever really been present on Twitter, a profoundly unstable and abusive place. Some tweeters decamped as refugees, but many have persisted on Twitter, its network effects and the inertia of habit proving too much to overcome even as the platform decays.
Enter Mark Zuckerberg, who sensed an opportunity. His Instagram team made a replica, just as it had cloned Snapchat and TikTok features before. The result, Threads, appeared on app stores recently. Threads is Twitter, but you can import your Instagram profile and network, to some extent. Then you post.
By dinnertime, those of us with unhealthy relationships to Twitter had already begun doing just that: following and posting, posting and hearting and “rethreading,” or whatever it’s called when you retweet on Threads. It felt good. Just like it felt good when we went through this same process 10 months ago on Mastodon and two months ago on Bluesky. It’s shameful to admit, or at least the two of us are ashamed to admit it.
The deterioration of Twitter, a real-time, global online news network, feels like a real loss, so the promise of its possible recovery inspires, as saccharine as that sentiment may be—even if that recovery comes from Meta. But also, as media professionals too foolish, busy, or truculent to diversify, we have made a substantial investment in Twitter as a locus for personal and professional attention. Converting our hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers into hundreds of Threads ones overnight felt, well, ridiculous and glorious.
But as the excitement of joining a new platform fades, reality sets in: The age of social media is over, and it cannot be recovered. Zuckerberg has merely copied and pasted a social network, and we are back where we started, only with all the baggage and psychological scarring of previous connectivity experiences. Big tech companies now dictate where attention, and therefore money, power, and influence, reside. You don’t have to like that fact to admit that it’s the case.
The looming questions behind Threads, or really any of the new discourse-producing posting factories, are simple and vaguely existential: Who, if anyone, is this for? Did anyone ask for this? Why are these hot people with excellent skin, blue check marks, and 750,000 followers so excited?
Perhaps it’s because a platform that hosts and distributes short text posts has merit. The core idea of Twitter—short dispatches made from words alone, or nearly so—has facilitated a real culture, many cultures. But there’s a weird cognitive dissonance at play these first few hours on a new posting app, here in the twilight of the social-media era. The inveterate posters are back at it, blasting out content, but the question remains: Is Threads a thing? Should we be on it? Only time will tell.