With Elon Musk's Twitter in chaos Mark Zuckerberg sees his chance: Meta's Threads launches

Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg's faces.
(Image credit: Mandel Ngan)

Update: Threads launched even earlier than previously teased: it's available now on Google Play and the Apple App Store. There's a QR code on the official site that'll take you to the app pages (there's apparently no web client at the moment).

First impression: Like Instagram, there's no way to escape seeing posts from people you don't follow, which is disappointing. 

Elon Musk's $45 billion takeover of Twitter has been something of an ongoing circus, with the outspoken billionaire making thousands of staff redundant, relaunching verification as a paid-for service and, this past weekend, overseeing some sort of IT cockup that rendered the site unusable for many (which Musk spun as deliberate, citing "data scraping"). People saying they're leaving Twitter for Mastodon and others has become almost a sub-genre of posts on the site, while the fresh restrictions keep coming: most recently, Twitter announced the hugely popular TweetDeck is to be paywalled.

Long story short: The business master is trying to retrofit paid-for services onto a service that became popular because, among other things, it was free. That's not to say Twitter was ever without problems but, whatever they were, it was an open platform anyone could sign up for and get the full functionality. Musk is piece-by-piece crimping what he can to increase friction and make people pay for something they've been using for free for god knows how long.

Watching this all unfold, and metaphorically licking his chops, is pale billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Meta. Facebook's parent company sees opportunity in Twitter's chaos and, as competing social media companies, it's well positioned to make a serious challenge to Twitter's seeming dominance of online discourse. It has been teasing a competing Twitter-like platform of its own for some time and, after a Meta exec made a jibe at Musk by saying people were looking for a "sanely run alternative", feelings bubbled to the surface with Musk and Zuckerberg exchanging public posts promising a literal cage match. All very sane.

Now, Meta is ready to put the cat among the pigeons. The new rival to Twitter is called Threads and will go live tomorrow, with pre-orders (for a free app??) already available on the App Store. Perhaps its killer feature, initially at least, is its integration with the existing, hugely popular, and Meta-owned Instagram. If the name sounds familiar that's because, well, Instagram Threads was an older service that Meta mothballed in 2021.

The screenshots of the new Threads look, well, incredibly like Twitter. So much like Twitter in fact you half wonder if Musk will sue, even for a laugh, because it's such barefaced larceny.

Screenshots of the new Twitter competition Threads.

(Image credit: Meta)

Meta of course calls it a "text based conversation app" rather than a ripoff of a successful competitor it didn't buy. The store description says "Threads is where communities come together to discuss everything from the topics you care about today to what'll be trending tomorrow."

"Thank goodness they're so sanely run," said Musk in response to a tweet containing the announcement, showing that he's definitely over that particular insult.

In the quest to eat Musk's lunch, Threads will be free and will place no restrictions on users. It will of course do the Meta trick of sucking up every teeny tiny bit of data about you, all the better to sell to you with, and this is by now part of the Zuckerberg playbook. Meta is not only voracious with acquisitions but, when it can't just take over a competitor, it builds an internal version of that competitor: TikTok becomes Facebook Reels; Snapchat becomes Facebook Stories. Most importantly, the Instagram link means it starts with hundreds of millions of accounts connected and ready to go.

The cage match between Musk and Zuckerberg is never going to happen, because here's the real one, and Twitter vs. Threads is going to be a slugfest. One of these men built his fortune with a social media platform, while the other made his money elsewhere and bought-in to social media with the belief he could do it better. This is a straight-up battle where Meta's going to use its awesome leverage and resources to try and asphyxiate an established competitor that's going through troubled times. Whatever you may think of Musk I can't be alone in hoping that, at the very least, Zuckerberg gets a bloody nose for his trouble.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."

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