Meta's Twitter rival Threads has shaken up the social media market - for now. But do we really need another social media app?
Social media has my mental health hanging by a thread. But it's not because I'm a social media journalist. The endless tap, tap, scroll into algorithmic hellscapes that slowly suck away at your self-esteem and sense of purpose, until one day your phone battery dies and you’re left staring at your own dead-eyed reflection in the blackened screen, overstimulated by TikTok sounds and self-loathing. In the past, I’ve wrestled with my desire to abandon it all and disappear digitally; erase every embarrassing message exchange, ugly party picture and aimless thought that seemed insightful one buzzy night in 2014. But, if Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover has taught us anything, it’s not so easy to leave behind these online spaces that are so ingrained in our daily lives and social spheres.
Toxic and addictive dopamine-factories, social media platforms itch away at our brains like nicotine, creating a constant craving for something fleeting and forgettable that never fills us up.
Around 30 million people signed-up to Meta’s Threads the day it was released - including me. A world record for downloads in 24-hours. This number would have been even greater, but the app's currently not available in the EU.
Pitched by Mark Zuckerberg as a “friendlier” rival to Twitter, Threads joins the likes of Bluesky, Hive and Mastodon, each hoping to capitalise on the butchering of a beloved bird app by a billionaire edgelord.
Most of these Twitter alternatives have achieved moderate to mainstream hype, until the novelty wears off and old habits takeover. This is where Threads has a major advantage: Most people are already using Instagram, which Threads is linked-up to, streamlining the process of joining a new app and finding your followers. Even my 65-year-old mum is on it.
While we could discuss whether or not Threads is a real threat to Twitter, or whether Musk and Zuckerberg are really going to participate in that publicity stunt cage fight (eye roll), I've mostly been wondering: Do we need a Twitter alternative at all?
It's worth noting that I love - lov_ed_ - Twitter. I've been an avid user since 2009, and even worked there for six months during the pandemic. It's been my primary source for news and networking for more than a decade, having helped me connect with other hugely talented writers and journalists. And sure, at times it fostered an overwhelming existential dread and fear for humanity, but I was truly heartbroken when Musk shared that picture of him entering the Twitter HQ with a sink.
What "sunk in" then, for me, was the realisation that nothing on the internet is as permanent as we think it is. Social platforms come and go (RIP Myspace) and often, when they go, it's because society has moved on to the next thing more suited to its needs.
The weird thing about Twitter is how many of us are still lingering, hating every second and acutely aware of its decay, but unable to log off and leave. Maybe we're all addicted to the drama and rage bait - or maybe we're just too mentally burnt out to care at all.
Once a tool for connecting with people we actually knew or shared common interests with, social media has become an amorphous, ad-bloated Sarlacc pit that chews up our brains and spits out the attention span. There's a growing resentment and distrust towards the apps with a chokehold on the market, while Zuckerberg's capitalism-fuelled cloning of other platforms' features has set in a general overwhelm and fatigue for users.
It begs the question: Why would anyone want more social media apps cluttering up their home screen and head?
An increasing number of younger people are already looking for ways to be more offline, with sales of "dumb phones" up in the US in 2022. Meanwhile, the r/nosurf subreddit, which helps people to reduce their screen time, has over 212,000 members.
That's not to say social media is all bad - or going anywhere, but it has reached a tipping point of sorts that doesn't require replacements as a solution, but rather a complete redefining of what social media even is.
As entertainment via video became the internet's main currency, the more personal and uninhibited styles of communication that once filled Facebook statuses circa 2008 have found their way to messaging apps like Whatsapp or community servers like Discord.
In the process, the distinction between branded influencer-led content and more intimate, private connection has become lost, with apps like Facebook and Instagram instead trying to be everything all at once; a chaotic colour wheel of creator content destined to implode.
There are no easy answers here, but I do know that when two of the world's biggest tech CEOs are organising a cage fight via their respective social media platforms, we've long lost the Thread.