Up until last Thursday, OpenAI’s ChatGPT held the record for the fastest stratospheric platform growth ever, reaching 10 million people in a mere five weeks. However, after Meta launched Threads on July 6th, the Threads app eclipsed ChatGPT’s record in just seven hours.

Within 24 hours, 30 million people signed up for Threads. By the end of the weekend, 100 million registered users were exchanging messages on the platform. Given that Threads hasn’t yet launched in the EU due to privacy regulations, the level of platform growth is noteworthy.

What is Threads exactly?

Meta – the parent company of Facebook and Instagram – describes Threads as “a new app, built by the Instagram team, for sharing text updates and joining public conversations.”

Users log in to Threads using an Instagram account. Posts can be up to 500 characters long and can include links, photos and videos that are up to 5 minutes in length.

Threads is still evolving. Central features, such as search capabilities, direct messaging, hashtags and a “following” feed are all in the works.

For now, Threads is only available as an app on Android and iOS devices, meaning that users cannot access it via desktops or laptops.

Key highlights

  • Twitter traffic has declined since the launch of Meta’s text-based platform, Threads.
  • Meta executives are promoting Threads as a “public square” that fosters a more positive environment for communities that haven’t fully embraced Twitter.
  • Threads accounts are connected to Instagram accounts, meaning that Threads users might be able to deactivate their profiles, but the data could be stored on Meta’s servers indefinitely.

Threads as a Twitter rival

Threads could pose a “serious threat to Twitter,” which has encountered user backlash since Elon Musk took over the platform in 2022.

As the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation phrased it, Twitter is where the “fun, intellectually-stimulating online conversation used to be.” In recent months, it has turned into a playground for trolls and bots and has seen an uptick in hate speech. Some are looking for a ‘less hostile’ place to hang out.

Others are against Meta products, like data consultant Ray Harris, who says that he’d prefer to “go down with the ship” on Twitter rather than switch platforms. Also, “Do I really need a Twitter clone in my life or can I just, you know, enjoy the outdoors again?” he said jokingly.

After the Threads launch, Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino stated, “we’re often imitated – but the Twitter community can never be duplicated.”

What about content moderation?

Thus far, Meta hasn’t addressed how it intends to scale its content moderation operation to deal with the sudden influx of new users to a brand new platform. Up until this point, the company has stated that Instagram’s existing community guidelines apply on Threads, and that it hopes to foster a more “positive” environment.

However, despite Meta’s attempt to emphasize the good vibes, history has shown that where there are millions of users, there will likely be bad actors spreading misinformation or phishing schemes.

At present, it appears that Threads is primarily relying on Instagram’s moderation infrastructure. For instance, if a user tries to follow someone who has repeatedly shared misinformation, the app will provide a warning. Yet, with more than 95 million posts created within its first 24 hours of existence, Threads will eventually mature and likely require its own moderation resources.

Threads and data privacy

On the Apple App Store, Threads says that it may collect select personal data from users, including health and fitness information, financial information, contacts, browsing history and location. Such data may be shared with advertisers.

(If you’re wondering about what that may translate to, the ad tech giant can theoretically share data pertaining to users’ health conditions with advertisers, for example, so that they can try to sell users diet drinks, fitness equipment or whatever.)

In addition, the Threads and Instagram apps, according to Apple’s App Store, may retrieve sensitive information, which could include race, sexual orientation and religion.

“If people are looking for an alternative to Twitter that respects their data privacy and right to civil discourse, they will have to keep searching,” said social media and online privacy expert Mark Weinstein.

For Android users, the Google Play Store doesn’t force people to permit Threads to parse as much data as for iOS users. Those who download the app from the Google Play Store can manually adjust toggles related to what personal data is shared with the app.

Strategies for protecting privacy: Threads

  • Users can make Threads profiles private. To do so, users can go to Settings within the app, look for the Privacy option, tap on it, and then toggle the switch. Limiting visibility to ‘approved followers only’ can minimize threat actor attempts and harassment.
  • Threads allows each user to control who mentions them within posts. To adjust the mentions settings, navigate to Privacy Settings. Locate the “Mentions” option and tap on it. To define who can mention your account, choose “everyone,” “profile you follow,” or “no one.”
  • Threads users can mute or block accounts. To limit disruptive interactions, users can go to Privacy Settings, and search for the “muting” option. Tapping on that will allow users to specify accounts to mute. Posts from those accounts will no longer appear in the Threads feed. Users can also do this by tapping on the three dots at the upper right of every post.
  • Threads allows users to hide specific words (ex. those that are offensive). To hide words on Threads, users can open the privacy settings and tap on “Hidden Words.”
  • Some users may prefer to keep their ‘likes’ data private. To hide likes from other users, navigate to Privacy settings, look for “Hide Likes” and click on it. Toggle the switch to hide likes from public view.

Threads users may be able to deactivate profiles, should they wish not to continue interacting on the platform. However, the data could be stored on Meta’s servers indefinitely. As of the present writing, users do not appear to have the ability to permanently delete Threads data.

At least one news station has reached out to Meta concerning privacy protocols specific to minors, but the company has not yet responded to the inquiry.

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