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5 things to know about Meta's Threads app before you entangle your Instagram account

Facebook's parent company released its Instagram companion app, Threads, as a direct competitor to Twitter.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor and  Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
Threads download page
NurPhoto/Contributor/Getty Images

Since Elon Musk took the helm at Twitter late last year, the company has experienced mass layoffs, paid verification controversies, multiple technical outages, massive ad revenue losses, and lots of drama. Users experienced data breaches and unpleasant online quarrels with the company's CEO.

As a result, millions of users have left Twitter, and some are looking for an alternative to the app that was once hailed as a digital town square. Competitors are looking to create their own digital town square and are capitalizing on the disarray at Twitter.

Also: Twitter rival Threads sees 23 million signups overnight

Meta, the parent company of popular networking apps Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, had been working on a secret project we now know as Threads. Meta released Threads on the Google Play and App Store on July 5, reportedly seeing 30 million signups within the first sixteen hours.

In early March, Meta confirmed to Platformer that the company is "exploring a standalone decentralized social network for sharing text updates." This statement was also given to multiple news outlets, as Meta aimed to keep the details of Threads close to the company.

What is Threads, and why is it so involved with Instagram?

Threads, an Instagram app, is a microblogging platform that Meta released to compete directly with Twitter. Threads is Instagram's companion app, as Instagram users must create a Threads account with their Instagram credentials.

Threads operates similarly to Twitter by encouraging real-time conversations where users can share their thoughts, photos, and videos.

Also: Facebook and Instagram owner is launching Twitter rival called Threads

It's unclear how Threads and Instagram will boost one another's engagement or analytics, but the two apps are heavily tied together. Users can import their Instagram following list to Threads, and a verified user on Instagram is automatically verified on Threads when they create an account.

Threads also has a catch that users may not be aware of until they've already created an account. If someone decides they don't like Threads, they can't delete their Threads account unless they also delete their Instagram account.

If a user violates Threads' community guidelines and gets their Threads account banned, their Instagram account will also be banned. To change their Threads username, users must also change their Instagram username.

Also: US Surgeon General releases social media health advisory

The strong tie between a user's Instagram and Threads accounts makes it difficult for people with accounts across platforms that represent different parts of their personality. 

For some, their Instagram account is family and coworker-friendly, while their Twitter account is dedicated to inappropriate humor or their favorite celebrity. As a result, users will have to bring their contrived Instagram personality to Threads or create a separate Instagram account to attach to a Threads account.

Why did Meta create Threads?

Instagram has consistently added new features to the app since Meta purchased it in 2012. At its humble beginnings, Instagram was a photo-sharing app exclusively on iOS where people could like and comment on their friend's posts.

Over the years, video-sharing, direct messaging, Notes, photo carousels, Reels, and Stories were integrated into the app, changing how we use Instagram.

Also: Micro-social media: What is it and which tools should you try?

According to The New York Times, Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, wanted to integrate real-time conversations into the app but recognized that Instagram already consists of a lot of moving parts.

Additionally, Mosseri saw the opportunity to capitalize on the chaos at Twitter since Elon Musk purchased the app in late 2022, and provide Twitter lovers with a "sanely run" Twitter-like platform.

What's the app culture like on Threads?

Threads has plenty of celebrities, brands, and social media influencers. Most Threads on the timeline are recycled popular tweets and people discussing the uncertainty of traversing a new app. So, there's not much novelty on Threads except the fact that the app is brand new.

Also: How to fix your Instagram feed

Many people are Threading about what Mark Zuckerberg and company could do to improve the user experience on Threads. The issue Zuckerberg may face is that users don't want a new app, they want Twitter sans Elon Musk's influence. But is a Twitter lookalike with Mark Zuckerberg's influence any better? We'll have to wait and see.

For now, Threads users cannot customize their feed, as the main timeline is a list of Threads from random Threaders, and there's no way to change it. Threads has no direct messaging feature, but users can share a Thread they like to their Twitter feed.

What data does Threads collect?

Threads collects much of the same data Twitter collects from users, such as user content, contact information, search and browsing history, device identifiers, purchase history, and financial information.

Also: Big tech is actually doing all this with your personal data. True or false?

Because Threads is an Instagram app and Instagram is property of Meta, Threads collects the same data that Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp collect from users. Threads collects users' physical addresses, health and fitness data, and sensitive info like biometric and ethnic data. Twitter does not collect these types of data.

What happened to Threads being decentralized?

Before Threads launched, Meta emphasized that the platform would be decentralized, and users could control their algorithms and the content they see. However, at launch, we see that Threads is -- in fact -- not decentralized.

Mosseri said in a post that future versions of Threads will integrate with ActivityPub, a decentralized social networking protocol that also supports Mastodon. However, he said that the team responsible for building Threads could not create the framework to support ActivityPub.

Also: TikTok bans explained: Everything you need to know

Decentralized social networks differ from centralized networks because multiple entities control them. On a decentralized network, there is not one sole person or organization that operates the network. 

Historically, Meta has not been a public proponent of decentralized networks for its social media apps. In fact, the company's apps rely heavily on walled gardens to maximize the profit made from marketing and advertising campaigns targeted at users. 

Also: How to delete your Twitter account and protect your data, too

The walled garden business model is increasingly becoming scrutinized by lawmakers as antitrust laws threaten some aspects of the model's legality. But creating a decentralized alternative to Twitter has proven to be a challenge.

In November, Mastodon saw over a million ex-Twitter users but failed to keep them around. At the height of the platform's popularity, it posed a genuine threat to Musk, as he briefly banned the sharing of Mastodon links on Twitter.

But Twitter's cult following and name within the industry have kept users on the app despite the significant issues the app has encountered in the last six months. Maybe Mastodon had too much on its plate at once, or people became quickly turned off by the app's sometimes complicated, decentralized user experience. 

Also: Mastodon isn't Twitter but it's glorious

But late last year, Mastodon's founder disclosed that the company declined multiple investment offers from Silicon Valley in order to preserve the platform's non-profit status. Meta, on the other hand, is a for-profit company and can use that status to funnel funds and resources into its decentralized platform.

Decentralized platforms don't utilize the typical advertising tactics on Web2 social networking platforms. Mastodon doesn't have any ads whatsoever, and it's unclear how Meta's platform will make its money.

Web3, the next iteration of the web's infrastructure, currently promotes using blockchain technology to reward customers for participating in an exchange with an online vendor. It's a convoluted technology that has yet to be widely adopted. 

But it could be interesting to see a company that's been in many firestorms around its questionable advertising methods and sometimes predatory algorithms pivot to a decentralized platform. Can Meta thrive on a forum that's devoid of the characteristics of the foundation of its business practices?

Also: Quitting Twitter? How to join a Mastodon server with the official Android app

Meta could be the first Web2 powerhouse to jump to Web3 technology successfully. So, maybe it's time we brush up on how to use decentralized social networking platforms.

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