Instagram’s new Twitter-like app Threads is not prepared to truly challenge Elon Musk’s X, if recent statements by Instagram head Adam Mosseri hold true. In response to a post about Threads’ position on hard news, Mosseri explained the company did not intend to “amplify” news on its platform. His position is not a surprise, though it’s a disappointing one for those looking to exit X in favor of greener pastures. At Meta, both Instagram and Facebook have had difficult relationships with news publishers over the years, having battled fake news, clickbait and accusations of political bias.
Despite its past missteps, Meta-owned Threads has the potential to pull in X users who are dissatisfied with changes Musk is making to the platform, including the most recent update that bizarrely removed news headlines in an effort to keep X users from leaving the app. But if Threads is hesitant to embrace news out of fears of turning into a negative-leaning network like Twitter became, it also won’t ever be able to serve as a 1:1 Twitter replacement.
At an Instagram creator event last week, Mosseri laid out Instagram’s approach to news, saying, “We want to empower creators in general. We try not to lean too hard into news. We’re not anti-news,” he explained, noting that news would always be on Instagram. “But having worked on Facebook for a long time and leaning in really hard there, we want to be really careful not to over-promise and under-deliver.”
He then reiterated these same sentiments in a post on Threads about the app’s plans to tackle — or rather, not to tackle — news. Wrote Mosseri:
We’re not anti-news. News is clearly already on Threads. People can share news; people can follow accounts that share news. We’re not going to get in the way of any either. But, we’re also not going go to amplify news on the platform. To do so would be too risky given the maturity of the platform, the downsides of over-promising, and the stakes.
While it’s reasonable to say that Threads may be too new to have a solid approach to how to handle news and the necessary moderation doing so involves, the need for an X alternative has become more dire in the face of the increases in misinformation circulating on X around the Israel-Hamas war. As a result, a number of reporters hopped over to Threads this weekend to establish themselves and build a following. In a viral post, journalists introduced themselves to the Threads user base, prompting others to do the same.
But if Threads’ position is to not “amplify” news, it won’t work as an X replacement. Real-time news and information are the lifeblood of X, and it’s a hard formula to reproduce. Threads was lucky to even have a shot at that, and it seems it’s a shot it doesn’t want to take.
In addition, Mosseri is incorrect that Threads isn’t getting in the way of news — the company has already blocked a number of search terms that have news value, including “covid,” The Washington Post reported.
Without a focus on news, the question for Threads is how will it deliver on its mission to create a place for discussions at scale.
Mark Zuckerberg, in a recent Verge interview, hinted that Threads’ avoidance of news may actually be the solution.
He remarked that Twitter designers didn’t likely want an app that made people feel bad, but the app “indexes very strongly on just being quite negative and critical.”
“I think they wanted to have a maximum kind of intense debate, right? Which I think that sort of creates a certain emotional feeling and load,” he said. “I always just thought you could create a discussion experience that wasn’t quite so negative or toxic. I think in doing so, it would actually be more accessible to a lot of people,” Zuckerberg added.
In other words, instead of generating conversations around news events, leading to debates, Threads wants to be “a more positive, friendly place for discussion,” as Zuckerberg put it.
But a friendly place for discussion could also mean a dull place to be. That’s something X, for all its faults, is not.
As X CEO Linda Yaccarino shared at the Code Conference earlier this month, “You gotta admit, it’s not boring…There is no surrogate for X.”
Even Threads’ leadership seems to agree.