B. A Cisse & I. S. Oyelami
“Competition is fine, cheating is not,” Elon Musk said in response to the launch of Thread, a platform owned by Meta, Mark Zuckerberg’s conglomerate that encompasses Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp. This recent launch is poised to become a lasting topic of discussion, potentially attaining significance in the annals of modern technological history. As the world continues to explore the diverse possibilities presented by OpenAI’s cutting-edge ChatGPT, the technology sector finds itself once again energized by the introduction of Threads, courtesy of the American corporate behemoth, Meta.
Threads made a remarkable mark with its July 5th launch, amassing an astounding 100 million users within a mere five days, surpassing ChatGPT’s two-month record and leaving its competitor, Twitter, trailing behind with a four-year reach. In today’s tech advancement, Threads vs. Twitter competition that is soon going legal is an enlarging choice for some and a strategic chess move between Twitter and Meta (or Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg) for others. Meanwhile, some tech-savvy observers see it as conspicuous that these two companies are as related as two branches of the same tree. However, what other things does this competition says?
The immense influence and impact of Web 2.0, characterized by user-generated content, social networking, and interactive web applications, cannot be overstated. This transformative power began to be realized when Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard dropout, disrupted the online landscape with the inception of Facebook in 2004. Social media platforms emerged as connectors of friends and families, and despite many other apps entering the market and subsequently failing, the concept continued to thrive. In 2006, Twitter was established, offering concise and interactive features that garnered substantial popularity. While it did not match the user base of Facebook, it created an environment capable of influencing the masses across different countries. Twitter became a preferred platform for the youth, corporate entities, politicians, and celebrities alike. Its notable features such as hashtags and trending topics facilitated easy navigation and engagement for users.
Twitter’s success has undeniably evoked feelings of envy among its competitors. Even Facebook attempted to rival Twitter by incorporating key features such as hashtags and trending topics. However, Facebook’s lack of real-time interaction hindered its ability to keep up. In the context of a capitalist economy, this rivalry is not unexpected. Particularly noteworthy is Meta’s acquisition of WhatsApp, a leading messaging app, and Instagram, a prominent photo-video app, which consolidated its control over a significant portion of social media users, with the exception of Twitter’s sphere of influence. However, another aspect of the Web 2.0 era would present itself during the Trump administration and the Covid-19 crisis. This period witnessed incidents of “fake news” and heightened control over user-generated content. Twitter played a significant role in regulating the flow of information during regional crises such as the George Floyd case, Nigeria’s #EndSARS movement, and Israel’s attacks, among others. The expulsion of former American President Donald Trump from the platform demonstrated Twitter’s immense power. Subsequently, there was a widespread desire to possess the influential capabilities of Twitter to control the political agenda.
Thus, the platform undoubtedly holds immense political and public influence as seen in different events. Attention has been drawn to their roles in shaping public opinion and mobilizing social movements. In the same vein, the fight for money and power remains a driving force behind competition drawn against it. Thus, it is equipped with the power to shape narratives, sway public sentiment, and influence decision-making processes that ultimately determine the trajectory of societies and people's way of life.
Donald Trump, who was no stranger to Twitter’s influence, made a significant move against the platform by launching Truth Social in February 2022. This platform has gained approximately two million users, primarily consisting of Trump’s supporters and right-wing sympathizers who perceive Twitter as biased in suppressing certain opinions. The debate surrounding freedom of speech on Twitter intensified during the same year. Interestingly, during this period of heightened discourse, Elon Musk, known for his ventures in technological hardware and space development, made a surprising acquisition of Twitter. Musk expressed his intention to “free the bird,” indicating his desire to address the perceived limitations on freedom of expression on the platform.
Elon Musk, despite claiming to be open to opinions from both the left and right wings, has been the subject of left-wing media propaganda and has had several confrontations with them, often played out on Twitter. However, it was not his supposed political neutrality, confrontations with cancel culture or lack of support for the LGBTQ+ community that intensified his controversy in the liberal-led American and global tech world. Instead, it was his monetization strategy for Twitter.
In Elon Musk’s Twitter realm, ideology takes a backseat to monetary gain. For a mere $8 per month, anyone can obtain a verified blue tick and present themselves as an authority on various subjects. The privileges bestowed upon these verified accounts have transformed Twitter into somewhat of a chaotic environment, which has frustrated many users. This discontent created the perfect opportunity for someone like Mark Zuckerberg to introduce an alternative. Consequently, in July 2023, Zuckerberg unveiled his new app, Threads, an idea he had conceived as early as 2020.
The coming of Threads
Threads’ timing of the launch is indeed opportune, particularly considering the growing dissatisfaction with the unrealistic limitation on the number of tweets an individual can read in a day. One notable advantage Threads possesses over its competitors, especially Twitter, is its strong foundation in data. Meta, headed by Mark Zuckerberg, already owns some of the largest databases in the world, allowing for seamless account creation on Threads through users’ existing Instagram pages. Additionally, Zuckerberg allegedly recruited former Twitter employees who had either been laid off or resigned during Musk’s tenure. These individuals are believed to have played a significant role in replicating the Twitter experience within Threads.
While Threads does enhance certain features compared to Twitter, such as an extended character count of 500 (compared to Twitter’s 280) and increased video playtime of up to 5 minutes (compared to Twitter’s 2 minutes 20 seconds), it still lacks crucial elements such as direct messaging and Twitter’s trending and hashtag features. Although scepticism surrounds the new platform, many users are enthusiastic and already making the most of its potential.
In this era of technological advancements and evolving user expectations, the battle between Threads and Twitter represents a strategic chess match not just between individuals but something that can be extended to entities and ideological blocs in the West. Unfortunately, the naïve masses may be cowed into thinking that one party is fighting for them over the other. The reality is that these individuals are only waving the flag of what they represent. The coming months or years will witness a series of actions that every company will take to dominate the market. The evolution of events will definitely affect our lives, for better or worse. As users, it is safe to say that the real outcome of this battle is in our hands. The popularity of one platform should not be the driving factor in our choice; as individuals, we need to consider what favours us best and represents our values and interests.
The story of the silent clash between these two technology giants and other rivals started long ago and continues to unfold. This is especially true as the duo is expected to go beyond Web 2.0 and delve into AI technologies. Whatever the case may be, it is worth reminding that the moral of this story is data! Meta has gained strength because it possesses one of the largest databases in the world. With its various social networks, the company has the capacity to fine-tune its algorithms to meet people’s needs.
However, only time will tell if Threads will succeed in competing with Twitter or if it will flop like many other apps before it. The future of these platforms is uncertain, and it is up to us as individuals to navigate this landscape wisely, considering what truly benefits us and represents our values.