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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Threading Lightly

colorful threads

colorful threads

No need to feed all the feeds

Irina Raicu

Irina Raicu is the director of the Internet Ethics program (@IEthics) at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.

There’s a new social media app out there, and it’s reportedly reached 70 million sign-ups within about a day—in part because it’s tied in with Instagram, whose users can activate accounts on the new app with only a few button clicks, transitioning both their information and their followers to the new space. It’s called Threads. It’s also been referred to, repeatedly, as the “Twitter killer.”

Remember all the talk about the “pivot to video”? This is a pivot back to (short-ish) text. However, the posts (which for now don’t have a name of their own, like “tweets” or “toots”—but maybe we can refer to them as “orts”?) can incorporate photos and videos, too.

A variety of apps are trying to supplant the unraveling Twitter. Some have generated bursts of excitement and sign-ups, only to simmer down soon after.  In Slate, Alex Kirshner explains the huge advantage that Threads has over other similar apps:

That linkage to Instagram… lets users skip the thankless task of typing into a void for a while as they build a following on a new platform... I have been toiling in the posting mines on Bluesky for weeks, and I have only gotten (as of publication time) 546 followers. It’s a nice change of pace, in a way. I have 29,000 Twitter followers, and the drawdown to a tiny following means I can say reckless things on Bluesky and not get into fights with strangers about them. But it is also humbling to rebuild from scratch... On Threads, though, I cleared a thousand followers in a few hours, many of whom just hopped over from Instagram without any effort on my part.

It's like moving into a new place, except that someone else transferred much of your stuff and invited all your friends and acquaintances over.

But, for now, it’s also, apparently, all algorithmically controlled. You see the posts that the (in-training) algorithm picks for you. It’s like moving to a new place, where all your friends and acquaintances have been invited and many are standing around, but in which the algorithm decides who can come up to chat with you. It’s the kind of social media that decides with whom you socialize—on a particular platform, at least.

On the day Threads was launched, many people tweeted about it. Some were excited. Some were just sharing how they could be found on the new app. Reporter Ben Collins wrote, “Repeatedly bifurcating my personality so I can tailor posts to the intricacies of 317 different social networks is really starting to feel like homework.” The following day, someone else commented, “Why are Twitter alternatives becoming a sort of horrifying gotta-catch-em-all, I did not agree to social media Pokemon Go.”

As new users were pouring in to Threads, Twitter’s owner tweeted, "It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter, than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram." But, if those are the choices, why pick either?

There are increasing numbers of social media options, and an increasing number of variables to consider when choosing what platforms to be on—where to invest limited time, attention, and effort (including the effort of making more privacy choices, adjusting new privacy settings, after, of course, reading more privacy policies).

I have a Bluesky invitation, waiting in a Twitter DM. I haven’t used it yet. I might, though.

We do, as Walt Whitman put it, contain multitudes. But we don’t have to project them on multitudes of platforms, feeding them to algorithmic feeds.

As a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center reminds us, “[p]eople bring deeply personal needs to social media, and their experiences play out in deeply personalized ways, tied to the platforms and communities they are part of.” I would add that they bring different professional needs, too. The growing challenge is to find our own golden mean of social media usage.

Photo: “Thread,” by Michael, used under a Creative Commons license.


Jul 7, 2023

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