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Meta has unveiled an app called Threads to rival Twitter

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

In a few minutes, the questions raised by the discovery of cocaine in the White House West Wing. But first, many have tried to replace Twitter since Elon Musk took over the platform.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Late yesterday, Facebook's parent company, Meta, made its move. Its a service called Threads.

SCHMITZ: NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn joins us to discuss. Good morning, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So Threads sounds like a not-so-hip clothing line, but it is in fact another social media site. What's it like?

ALLYN: Yeah, no shocker, it feels a whole lot like Twitter, but it has some advantages over a run-of-the-mill Twitter rival in the form of data, right? Meta has a lot of this. When you download the Threads app, you can instantly port over all of your Instagram photos, your bio, all of your Instagram friends. If all of your friends on Instagram join Threads, then you could sort of keep your network that you have on Instagram. Now, in terms of technology itself, Rob, for 2023, this is not exactly a breakthrough innovation. For a social media app, actually, this feels very 2010, but people are still joining. I think that really shows just how much frustration there is with the current state of Twitter. In its first seven hours, more than 10 million people have joined Threads, and people have already found some pretty funny names for it. Some are calling it Twinstagram (ph). Others are calling it Twitter Killer. So we'll see how it goes.

SCHMITZ: Twitter Killer. Twitter has been around for almost two decades. Why is Mark Zuckerberg doing this now?

ALLYN: Two words - Elon Musk. Since he took over Twitter, it's been less reliable. It's been less credible. Musk's abrupt policy changes have often alienated Twitter's most loyal users. Just this past weekend, Musk capped the number of tweets nonpaying users can read each day. Then he made it impossible to view tweets unless you're signed into the platform, which has now been reversed. But the damage is done for some users, Rob. Many are just fed up with Twitter. It's too chaotic and glitchy, and Musk clearly has one goal in mind, right? And that's getting more people to pay for Twitter. But people are leaving in droves. Zuckerberg sees opportunity there. You know, backing up for some context here, Zuckerberg and Musk have long had a rivalry. And a decade ago, Zuckerberg tried to buy Twitter, but Twitter wouldn't sell. And Zuckerberg has long envied Twitter for being the public square of the internet.

SCHMITZ: Will Threads be any different than the other attempts to replace Twitter?

ALLYN: You might know some of them by name or not - Mastodon, Bluesky, Post. The list goes on. The obvious difference here is scale. Across its apps, Meta has more than 3 billion users. Now the question is, can it recreate the culture of Twitter? That might be hard. Meta tried to copy TikTok with a service called Reels. That hasn't worked out so great. I talked to this tech analyst named Faine Greenwood about whether Meta's Threads has a shot, and she is pretty skeptical. And it's because of something she calls the terrible uncle problem.

FAINE GREENWOOD: So the terrible uncle problem is the issue that comes about when all of your relatives, your colleagues, your high school classmates are able to find you on social media.

ALLYN: Yeah, basically, everyone is on Facebook, including your terrible uncle.

SCHMITZ: Right.

ALLYN: And that is a bad thing - right? - especially for younger users who see Facebook sort of as a party they would never want to go to.

GREENWOOD: Younger people, especially, are turned off a platform where they feel like they have to censor what they're saying, have to modulate what they're saying if they don't want to deal with literally everybody they know commenting on their posts.

SCHMITZ: Has Elon Musk responded yet to Threads?

ALLYN: Not yet. I emailed him to get a sense of how he's thinking about Meta taking a direct shot at Twitter, but I have not yet heard back.

SCHMITZ: NPR's Bobby Allyn. Bobby, thanks.

ALLYN: Thanks, Rob. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.