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Why Threads Won't Solve the News Crisis
More than 70 million Twitter refugees flocked to the new app looking for something that won't be there
Like more than 70 million other refugees from Twitter, I downloaded Threads — Meta’s new Twitter clone — and immediately started “threading.” This wasn’t an easy decision. I generally believe that through a toxic combination of avarice and incompetence, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have done tremendous damage to the world. My most recent book was subtitled “How Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media are Destroying America.” So, it’s safe to say that I am not exactly a Zuck stan. But despite my trepidation, I started using Threads.
Compared to other erstwhile Twitter replacements — Mastodon, Bluesky, Post, etc. — Threads was a huge success. It was easy to set up and even though I joined only a few hours after it launched, many people and media outlets were already posting on the app. The utility of a Twitter-like product is dependent on two interconnected questions — one, will enough interesting people share interesting content; and two, is the audience large and engaging enough to make sharing feel worth it? Because Threads leverages Instagram's user base of two billion people, it was able to bring both influential and interesting people and an audience to the table from the outset.
I went to Threads because I wanted Twitter circa 2010-2020. I wanted to follow the news, hear politicians, pundits, and experts respond to the news, and offer my own opinions on both. Don’t get me wrong; Twitter was far from perfect in that period. It was filled with abuse and harassment. The rules to the extent there were any, were applied in unfair and unpredictable ways. But because I made a living following, writing, working in, and talking about politics, Twitter was an essential tool.
Elon Musk rendered Twitter largely unusable. The app is constantly buggy. The decision to take away verification badges from everyone under a million followers and those unwilling to pay $8 a month undermined Twitter’s primary purpose for most users — following the news. Twitter thrived during big, fast-moving news events. But during the search for the Ocean Gate submarine and the coup attempt in Russia, it was largely impossible to discern what information to trust, an obvious problem when you click on a tweet, and the first several replies are from Elon fans who paid $8 to get a blue checkmark and make their tweets more visible. Anecdotally, at least, the decision to pay for increased relevance seems to correlate with being a particularly rude dipshit.
It’s too early to make any bold declarations. Threads will likely be better than Elon-era Twitter, yet I am skeptical it will solve the problem we all need solving — the news and information crisis.
The Death of the Current Events Monoculture
There is no question more important in politics or media than “how do people get their information?” In the Social Media era, information was found on major platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The content may have been originally created by the New York Times or the local paper, but the platforms were the delivery mechanism. Even less politically engaged folks bumped into the news as they scrolled (particularly on Facebook). That is no longer the case. Facebook deprioritized news in its algorithm in recent years and Twitter is broken. Instagram and TikTok have never been optimized for distributing news.
People seeking news no longer have a central place to go to follow current events. There is no current events monoculture.
My job is to follow the news closely, and it has become incredibly difficult – and nearly impossible – to stay informed with context and nuance. I can no longer count on the algorithms and the tastes of the journalists and others I follow to surface the news for me. There is no delivery mechanism of consequence.
The chasm between the political junkies and the non-news consumers widens still. This change has real implications for a Democratic Party that depends on persuading less politically engaged voters (and doesn’t have the existing media infrastructure of the Republicans).
Our national news vacuum is one reason I started creating information guides for my subscribers – like this one on the Biden Economy and this one on the Trump Indictment to help provide accurate, easily understood information amidst our algorithmic hellscape.
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Threads is Not the Solution
Meta/Facebook helped create the problem by sucking blood out of the business of journalism and building a platform optimized for outrage instead of accuracy. They have no interest in solving the problem. Adam Mosseri, the Meta executive in charge of Instagram, posted the following on Threads on Friday morning:
Mosseri’s comments came as a harsh surprise to the political Twitter refugees who had migrated to Threads for news and politics. He went on to explain in a follow-up post:
Politics and hard news are important, I don't want to imply otherwise. But my take is, from a platform's perspective, any incremental engagement or revenue they might drive is not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let's be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.
News and politics invite controversy. Controversy requires the platforms to take a stand on questions of accuracy and intent — to render judgment about what stays up and what comes down. Mosseri is being unusually honest — it’s all about the bottom line. Meta has a more Republican user base than any other major social media company. They do not want to litigate the absurd statements and conspiracy theories spouted by the twice-indicted, twice-impeached frontrunner for the GOP nomination.
These platforms evolve over time. They adjust to reflect the desires of the audience (and the advertisers and shareholders). There will be communities on Threads talking about politics and sharing the news. If the people in charge don’t want a carbon copy of the old Twitter, it will not be.
Even if Zuck and Mosseri wanted to build a news and politics platform, it could never achieve the same relevance and impact of Twitter in its halcyon days. The media changed and our consumption habits changed with it.
Like the traditional media, the digital ecosystem is splintering into smaller communities — sort by ideology and interest. The days when we all gathered on a couple of big platforms are gone, much like the days when we all watched one of the four available broadcast networks. Instead of hoping for a return to a simpler past, we must adjust our expectations, habits, and strategies to account for this new, more complicated reality.