It’s being called the “Twitter Killer.” Meta’s Threads aims to be a happier, warmer alternative to other microblogging sites. But what will yet another social-media platform do to the rest of us?
Facebook owner Meta META, -0.50% unleashed its new Twitteresque platform Wednesday, enabling Instagram users to import their handle and their followers. Instagram has over 2.35 billion active monthly users, and roughly 70 million people have signed up on the microblogging site so far. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Threads will be a “friendly” rival to Twitter, the platform purchased by Elon Musk last year. One of Threads’ own policies is not so friendly: If you delete it, your Instagram account will also be deleted, along with all those memories you’ve stored up over the years.
Psychologists and social-media analysts are skeptical — not so much about Threads’ potential success and the buzz it’s already created, but about how another social-media platform will affect mental health, political discourse, the spread of misinformation and the amplification of racism and hate speech, something Zuckerberg has endeavored to address. Privacy experts also worry about the information Threads can collect from your phone — your location, browsing and purchase history, even your health information.
‘This juggernaut has become the most influential thing that exists for man.’
— Dr. Don Grant, national adviser for healthy device management for Newport Healthcare
Dr. Don Grant, national adviser for healthy device management for Newport Healthcare, has worked on the relationship between people and their devices for 14 years and understands that social media brings people together. But looking at the proliferation of fake news and political spats on Twitter, he is also aware that it increasingly tears them apart. Studies have linked social media to body dysmorphia among young people and to depression. They, and we, compare and despair. Social-media and smartphone apps have also been shown to be addictive.
Grant’s first thought when he read about Threads was: “Why? Let’s all go back to MySpace. What was wrong with MySpace? MySpace was fun. MySpace was friendly. And Classmates.com. I found some friends from high school. I don’t know whether we need any of it.”
He worries that young people are the “virtual canaries” in the social-media coal mines. “It’s unvetted. Anyone can go on social-media platforms,” he told MarketWatch. “This juggernaut has become the most influential thing that exists for man. Anyone can put anything out there.”
Sander van der Linden, a professor of social psychology at the University of Cambridge and the author of “Foolproof: Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity,” sees more fragmentation with the launch of yet another forum similar to Twitter and to Truth Social, the conservative platform created by Trump Media & Technology Group, which reportedly only has a couple of million of active monthly users.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing that there are so many social-media sites,” van der Linden told MarketWatch. “The echo chambers erode conversations and discourse. But we don’t want one company to dominate the market. When people splinter off into their own echo chambers, some of these effects intensify. People who don’t agree with the mainstream media and blame censorship get more extreme in these echo chambers — reverberating their own information without any quality control.”
‘The echo chambers erode conversations and discourse. But we don’t want one company to dominate the market.’
— Sander van der Linden, a professor of social psychology at the University of Cambridge
Grant agrees. “Do we need any of it? The idea of competition and checks and balances is great,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We’ve seen so many come and go. But I don’t like monopolies. This is just one more piece for Meta’s ‘fediverse’ — Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and now Threads. That’s a lot of control over a lot of people over a lot of platforms.”
Facebook alone has nearly 3 billion monthly users. Meta’s fediverse, in theory, connects and shares information among platforms.
Meta, Twitter and Truth Social did not respond to requests for comment.
Van der Linden has advised Meta on how to counter disinformation, but he is not confident that toxicity won’t rear its head on Threads as it has on other social-media platforms. “I’m quite skeptical that the incentives are not going to be driven by ad revenue, polarization and outrage,” he said. “Until we have clear evidence that Meta has radically changed its business model, I think we’re just going to have another social-media platform — another that we’re going to worry about in terms of potentially spreading misinformation and how to debunk it.”
Dr. Emma Svanberg, a clinical psychologist working in London and the author of a book called “Parenting for Humans,” said people were excited about Threads, hence the high number of early sign-ups. “The simplicity of Threads seemed to appeal to our essential need for community,” she told MarketWatch.
Svanberg sees this as a positive sign that people are seeking out friendlier places for sharing information. “While we talk a lot about the downsides of social media, there is also evidence to show that it can have benefits, including connection to others, education and activism,” she added.
‘The simplicity of Threads seemed to appeal to our essential need for community.’
— Dr. Emma Svanberg, a clinical psychologist based in London
But many psychologists, economists and activists also say that the problems caused or exacerbated by social media — whether political, social or psychological — should be addressed by people who use these platforms, by government regulation and by the social-media companies themselves. The American Psychological Association has a range of suggestions for how users can tackle the detrimental effects of social media, including establishing so-called guardrails such as limiting the amount time spent online, turning off notifications for apps, not bringing phones to the dinner table, restaurant or, indeed, to bed.
Another approach could be to assign credibility scores to individual accounts based on a mix of data related to the quality of their output, van der Linden said. “Install reputational incentives so people don’t put out total nonsense, and have more user-driven input,” he said. “A click assumes you want more of something, but people are engaging with content they don’t want. Instead, ask people what kind of content they want.” He also favors “pre-emptive resilience,” an approach in which platforms forewarn users about misleading content related to politics or climate change.
Paul Romer, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, has suggested the government impose a levy to tax advertising revenue from social-media companies like Meta and search engines like Google GOOG, -0.65% GOOGL, -0.52% to prompt them to change their current business models in which customers essentially are the product, trading their information for free services. Grant said such money could be used for media-literacy programs. “They need to start early,” he said, “especially for the kids, so they understand the difference between misinformation and know about cyber aggression.”
The social-media fighting continues: Musk accusing Meta of misappropriating Twitter’s “trade secrets.” Meta denies those charges. Still, that aspect of the launch could not be described as friendly. (Source)