In July, Meta announced Threads, a new social media service that was obviously designed to steal market share from Twitter (which I still refuse to call X). You can’t blame Meta for trying. In the year or so that’s passed since Elon Musk vastly overpaid for the iconic short-text posting service, Twitter has been struggling, its cultural capital degrading rapidly alongside its infrastructure.
Meta’s plan with Threads is to capture the excitement of Twitter without all the controversy. Adam Mosseri, the executive in charge of Threads, recently said they were looking to provide “a less angry place for conversations.” His boss, Chris Cox, was more direct: “We’ve been hearing from creators and public figures who are interested in having a platform that is sanely run.”
Can Meta succeed with this plan to create a nicer Twitter? In my most recent article for The New Yorker, published earlier this month, I looked closer at this question and concluded the answer was probably “no.” At the core of Twitter’s ability to amplify the discussions that are most engaging to the internet hive mind at any one moment is its reliance on its users to help implement this curation.
As I explain in my piece:
The individual decision to retweet or quote a message, when scaled up to millions of active users, turns out to produce an eerily effective distributed selection process. A quip or observation that hits the Internet just right can quickly spark an information cascade, where retweets spawn more retweets—the original message branching exponentially outward until it reaches, seemingly all at once, an extensive readership.
This cybernetic approach to selecting trends embeds a Faustian bargain: it will generate engagement, but this engagement will be inevitably biased toward negativity and rancor, as in the game of initiating information cascades, the more charged missives are more likely to succeed. Given the reality of these techno-dynamics, my conclusion is that Threads will not succeed with its mission. It can make its platform less angry by relying more on algorithms than humans to figure out what to share, but the result will be a more sanitized and boring experience, like a text-based Instagram feed, full of anodyne comments and bland influencer drivel.
In the second half of my piece, I turn my attention to the bigger question: should we care? In other words, is it important that the internet host a successful global conversation platform on which hundreds of millions of people gather to discuss anything and everything on a common massive feed? I’ll point you toward my full article for my detailed examination of this issue, but if you’re a longtime reader of my newsletter, you can likely already guess where I’ll end up.
In other news: The recent launch of the new spiral-bound version of my Time Block Planner was a big success. The positive feedback I’ve been receiving has been gratifying. If you’re still interested in learning more, I want to point you toward this recent podcast episode in which I provide a detailed overview of time blocking and the new planner, and then provide some advanced tips for getting the most out of a blocking discipline.