Zuckerberg's Twitter clone Threads is live. Here's what you need to know.

Mark Zuckerberg has taken the wraps off Threads, a clone of Twitter designed to lure people turned off by the social network's changes under owner Elon Musk. Image via Threads site

Mark Zuckerberg has taken the wraps off Threads, a clone of Twitter designed to lure people turned off by the social network's changes under owner Elon Musk. Image via Threads site

Published Jul 6, 2023


Mark Zuckerberg has taken the wraps off Threads, a clone of Twitter designed to lure people turned off by the social network's changes under owner Elon Musk.

The billionaire social media smackdown is about to get real.

Before Meta's free text conversation-focused app launched late Wednesday, we had a chance to try it and quiz its makers. We found Meta has some advantages over rivals to turn Threads into a major new hub for online conversations.

Most of all, it arrives with a potential audience of billions who already use Meta's photo and video-oriented Instagram, which Threads is built on top of. Would-be Twitter rivals Mastodon and Bluesky have yet to grow beyond single-digit millions of users.

But Threads also comes with Meta baggage, including privacy, moderation and algorithmic feed practices that have turned many people off Zuckerberg's other social networks such as Facebook. For example: From the moment you first log in to Threads, it starts showing you recommended posts from accounts and brands you don't necessarily follow - or necessarily even care to see.

What's novel - and predictable - about Threads? And how do you give it a try? Answers below.

How do I get on Threads?

You'll need to have an Instagram account to sign up for Threads. Then you can download the Threads app for iOS or Android, or go to Threads directly on the web to set up your account. You'll use the same name for your Threads account as you do on Instagram.

When you first use the app, you'll be given the option to automatically follow all of the same accounts you follow on Instagram - or just select some of them. We're curious to see how this plays out: How much overlap is there between accounts you follow on Instagram for their epic photographs with accounts you want to read for their text or hot takes on politics and TV?

And one other thing to note: At launch, Threads isn't available in Europe, where the Irish Data Protection Commission recently hit Meta with a record $1.3 billion fine for breaking its privacy rules. The region's new Digital Markets Act also puts some of the Meta's data-sharing and privacy practices into question.

Does Threads work just like Twitter?

Meta bent over backward to tell us Threads is not a Twitter clone. "Threads is a new app that's focused on text and dialogue. And the way that we think about this is we're modeling it after what Instagram has done for photo and video," said Connor Hayes, a Meta product vice president.

But in many ways, Threads works exactly like Twitter. It's primarily oriented around text conversations, and your posts - called "threads" - are limited to 500 characters each. You mention other people in threads by using the @ symbol in front of their username, and can reply to someone else's posts. You can also quote or retweet - erm, "repost" - someone else's threads by clicking a button. (So should we call a thread of threads . . . a knit?)

What's different from Twitter? There's no separate direct messaging function at launch. And you have a bit more control over the audience who can see what you post.

How does the Threads feed work?

When you open the Threads app, you're thrown into a feed of threads that's a mix of accounts you've chosen to follow and algorithmically generated suggestions. Some of the people who are already on Threads include singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, celebrity chef Gordan Ramsey and social activist Malala Yousafzai, along with entertainment brands such as Netflix and Bravo TV.

But there's no way to make Threads show you only the posts from accounts you've chosen to follow. There's also no way to make your feed ordered chronologically - instead, it's organized by what the Threads algorithm thinks you might find most interesting.

Can I post photos and videos to Threads?

You can include photos and videos in threads, but videos come across as links to Instagram Reels, a video product of its sister app.

What does Threads do to my privacy?

Compared to Twitter, Threads offers some more nuanced options for the audience that sees what you post. You can set the audience on each post to everyone, just the people you follow or just the people you mention in the post.

Having said that, Threads is just as hungry for your personal data as Instagram is, including collecting data about your location and what you look and do in the app. Assume that when you sign up for a Threads account, Meta has access to everything Facebook and Instagram have learned about you over the years - on and off its apps - to target ads and tailor your experience.

Is Threads filled with ads?

At launch, Threads has no ads. But don't expect it to stay that way. Meta, which makes the vast majority of its revenue from tracking what users do online and using it to target them with ads, says it may open the door to ads in the future.

How does Threads moderate content?

Meta says safety is an advantage it has vs. Twitter. Threads will apply the same content rules that currently exist on Instagram. That means users on Threads won't be able to praise terrorist or hate groups, buy firearms or make threats against people or groups. Users under 16 are also automatically defaulted into a private account. And Threads will allow users to limit replies to their threads to only people that they follow or mentioned in the thread.

Will Donald Trump be allowed on Threads?

Yes, any user who is allowed to be on Instagram will be allowed to be on Threads. Earlier this year, Meta reinstated Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts following a two-year suspension.

What does Threads do for creators?

Meta says that Threads will lower the risk for creators who want to try a new text-based social media app but don't want to have to put in all the work it takes to build a new following from scratch. Instead, they can encourage their fan base on Instagram to join Threads to start. But users will still have to opt in to follow their favorite creators on Threads, and there is no guarantee that every creator's followers will be interested in the new app.

"My guess is that there's going to be a bunch of people that end up being very successful on Threads who you wouldn't really expect?" said Meta's Hayes. "You might look at them now as a visual content creator, but they have a lot of great things to say they just haven't had the place to say them. And our hope is that Threads can be that place."

Does using Threads lock me into Meta's products?

Meta says that it has plans to soon make Threads compatible with an industry protocol called ActivityPub that would make it interoperable with other decentralized social networks such as Mastodon. That could be revolutionary for the industry, but Silicon Valley doesn't have a great track record with actually making things work together.