One of the biggest fights in social media history is underway, as two tech giants—one long under fire, the other new but not—battle over ownership of the next text-based town square. And their respective leaders are sparring directly.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Twitter replacement Threads has come out swinging, rocketing toward 100 million users in its first week.
The toe-to-toe tiff started with a surprise attack—Threads launched earlier than expected, feature incomplete but capitalizing on a very bad week for Musk and Twitter. The initial flurry of Threads signups has continued apace, and 93 million users, who are largely converted Instagram users, have joined the app so far, according to data platform Quiver Quantitative.
Twitter owner Elon Musk spared little time in launching a counter-offensive. On Saturday, he uncurled a jab at Zuckerberg’s new platform, arguing Threads is a dumbed-down version of Meta’s Instagram that’s devoid of what he claims was its main, visual draw.
“Threads is just Instagram minus pics, which makes no sense, given that thirst pics are the main reason people use that app,” Musk said. “How many times have you read comments on Insta pics and wished there were more? Personally, never.”
Accurate assessment. Threads is just Instagram minus pics, which makes no sense, given that thirst pics are the main reason people use that app.
How many times have you read comments on Insta pics & wished there were more? Personally, never.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 8, 2023
Musk’s attempts to belittle Threads could be seen as competitive banter, or as a sign that the combative CEO is under increasing pressure to navigate Twitter toward success.
Several Twitter alternatives have emerged since Musk’s acquisition of the app last October, whether that’s startups like Blueksy or Nostr, and open-source, decentralized stalwart Mastodon soldiers on. But no challenger thus far has the same heft as Zuckerberg’s Threads, backed by one of the biggest names in tech.
The 93 million Threads accounts represents a sizable challenger to Twitter’s current user base. Musk’s bird app had 368 million users as of December of last year, a figure that’s projected to decline over the course of this year, according to Statista.
A light slap by comparison, BlueSky has been downloaded 1 million times by iOS and Android users, according to the app store intelligence provider data.ai. And as an invite-only platform, its number of users is undoubtedly less.
Nostr appears to be a non-factor as well. Measuring users is less straightforward because of the social media protocol’s technical elements, but it could have as many as 23 million users, according to Nostr.Band.
Overall, these figures are peanuts compared to Meta’s topline number of users across its so-called family of apps: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Meta had 3.8 billion users total in the first quarter of this year, according to Statista.
Thread’s ability to lean on Meta’s established accounts has led some Twitter commentators to cry foul.
Scott Melker, host of “The Wolf Of All Streets Podcast,” described early signup stats for Threads as “incredibly misleading” because of Facebook and Instagram users’ ability to essentially opt-in to a new feature.
I keep seeing this stat, but it’s incredibly misleading. Threads signups are existing Facebook and Instagram users who are effectively opting in to a new feature.
ChatGPT started at 0.
Not the same. https://t.co/8qyJ6ZwI8P
— The Wolf Of All Streets (@scottmelker) July 9, 2023
Beyond the written barbs, a potential lawsuit from Twitter could be viewed as a more tangible legal strike. Twitter has reportedly threatened to sue Meta, accusing Zuckerberg’s company of poaching Twitter employees to work on Threads and “trade secrets and intellectual property.”
Twitter had also recently notched a victory of its own, securing three state money transmitter licenses last week. The licenses dovetail with Musk’s vision for “X, The Everything App,” aimed at integrating payment systems into Twitter.
The bad blood between Zuckerberg and Musk has been brewing for weeks: the two billionaires could potentially engage in a cage match.
Yet, with little more than bragging rights on the line, the matchup between Threads and Twitter arguably overshadows any physical confrontation—with the lucrative attention of millions of users at stake.