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Meta's Threads app: The text-based social media platform from Instagram trying to replace X

Michelle Mark   

Meta's Threads app: The text-based social media platform from Instagram trying to replace X
  • Meta launched a new microblogging app called Threads in July 2023.
  • Threads is a clear rival to X, formerly known as Twitter, but is seen as a more brand-safe option.

Meta launched a social networking venture called Threads in July 2023, leveraging Instagram's audience to build a new microblogging site to compete with X, formerly known as Twitter.

Here's everything you need to know about the latest addition to Meta's line-up.

What is the Threads app?

The point of Meta's Threads app is to read and engage in public conversations. On Threads, users can post a "thread" — usually a short piece of text — and other users can "like," repost, or reply to the thread.

The Threads app was built by Instagram, and requires an Instagram account to connect, though you'll have to download the Threads standalone app separately.

But unlike Instagram, which is photo- and video-based, Threads is a predominantly text-based social-networking platform, though users can also post media files like photos, links, and short videos.

Threads posts can be up to 500 characters, and, depending on your privacy settings, your posts can either be seen by anyone on the Threads interface or just your approved followers.

Similarly to Facebook and Instagram — with the exception of the stories feature — Threads does not show who has viewed your profile or your posts.

Meta launched Threads in July 2023, but not for the first time. Back when Meta was known only as Facebook, the company released a previous version of Threads in 2019. That initial version was a messaging app geared at competing with Snapchat, but it never gained much traction and was discontinued in 2021.

Threads vs. X (formerly Twitter)

Though a number of social media platforms over the years — like BlueSky, Mastodon, and Truth Social — have tried to unseat X as the top social media app for public discourse, only Threads has had much luck.

Threads was launched at a highly opportune time — Elon Musk took over Twitter in October 2022, renamed it X, and began implementing a number of unpopular changes that caused many users to threaten to abandon ship.

When Meta released Threads, it was able to use Instagram's existing user base to quickly garner downloads and gain a foothold. Threads also gives users the option to follow accounts they already follow on Instagram.

Already, Threads and X share some popular features. Like X's "For You" page, Threads displays posts in a long feed on the homepage. This feed features posts from accounts users follow, and accounts they don't follow but may be interested in.

Like X, Threads also has a character limit on posts. But unlike X, Threads gives users 500 characters. X users are limited to 280 characters, unless they subscribe to Twitter Blue for $8 a month, in which case they get 25,000 characters.

In March 2024, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced an update to Threads that made the app even more similar to X: A "Trending Now" feature to better circulate popular and widely discussed topics and posts.

Safety, privacy, and content on Threads

Threads initially sparked safety and privacy concerns upon its launch — the app grants user data access to third-party services more freely than Meta's other products, like Facebook and Instagram.

Threads also angered users initially by not permitting users to delete their Threads accounts without also deleting their Instagram accounts. Users said they felt "trapped," and within months, Instagram rolled out a feature for users to delete a Threads account without losing the accompanying Instagram account.

Like Instagram, Threads has clear guidelines/policies against NSFW content, such as nudity and explicit sexual content. And unlike its rival, X, Threads is also less oriented towards politics and news content. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri has called Threads a brand-safe space, and a "less angry place" for public discourse.

As a result, critics have speculated that Threads will be boring, and better for brands than for its actual human users.

Do people actually use Threads?

Though Threads had a blockbuster launch, immediately garnering 150 million downloads and 100 million active users within days, usage quickly fell.

To address the slump, Meta added a number of new features to Threads to lure back those users and made the platform available in the European Union. By the end of 2023, Threads was the most popular app in the US Apple App Store.

Threads' surge also coincided with a drop in usage at X, though, like Meta, Musk has spoken of plans to add new features to boost usage.

It remains unclear whether Threads has true staying power, or if it will fully replace X as the top microblogging website, but Zuckerberg has expressed optimism that one day Threads could become "a 1 billion-person conversation app."