Meta’s Threads app has struggled to gain market share from its larger rival, X, despite a promising launch that quickly garnered 100 million signups. But, how the platforms combat misinformation about the conflict between Israel and Hamas could become a tipping point in boosting Threads’s traction.
What Users See On X
I compared the search results for several keywords related to the Gaza conflict.
On X, the results in the “Top” tab were all posts from individuals with no apparent credentials and no more than a few thousand followers. These posts were all partisan in nature, with the top few supporting the Hamas attacks and others describing Hamas atrocities. Almost all of these posts were stuffed with hashtags, some misspelled, to increase discoverability and sharing.
Notably absent among these “top” results were posts from major news organizations, recognizable journalists, or actual political leaders.
Mark Cuban, billionaire entrepreneur and the most internet-savvy Shark Tank star, said on Threads, “Twitter is a cesspool of misinformation on Israel/Gaza.”
That forceful statement mostly matched my own experience. The majority of posts I saw were one-sided, advocating for a point of view without a reputable source for supposed facts. Some included videos identified by others as altered.
News Discovery Hampered
Further diminishing the impact of links to news stories is Musk’s removal of headlines from posts. Now, a link to an external article shows an image from the article with a small domain watermark but no headline. Since it looks nearly identical to an image post that doesn’t link to external content, it’s not evident that clicking the photo will lead to a full story. While Musk says this change was to improve the appearance of posts, the result will be fewer clicks to external content.
The Threads Contrast
Searching Gaza-related terms on Threads produced results from The Washington Post, a White House correspondent, CNN, Reuters, Sky News, and other news organizations and journalists. Many linked to in-depth coverage on the topics in question.
Scrolling farther down in the search results revealed posts from individual members. By and large, these were thoughtful regardless of the opinion of the poster on the Gaza conflict. None contained obvious misinformation or extreme language.
Since Threads has not implemented hashtags, no posts had even one hashtag, much less a dozen or more. While theoretically one could stuff a Threads posts with keywords, it’s not clear whether that would improve its discoverability. I saw no keyword-stuffed posts in my search results.
If X has become a street brawl, Threads is more like a calm reception or networking event.
Can Threads Gain Market Share?
If more users become disillusioned with Twitter’s combative environment and abundance of unreliable information, Threads could have an influx of new users.
To date, the trend is only slightly encouraging. According to Similarweb, in September Threads.net had just 45 million visits compared to nearly 6 billion for Twitter.com, X’s primary domain. There was one bright spot in the Web data for Threads: their visits rose by 5% from the preceding month while Twitter’s dropped 8%.
App usage differences are also significant. Similarweb’s Top Apps list shows X as #4 in usage vs. Threads at #7, up one spot from the previous month. Threads is ahead of X on the download rank, #4 vs. #6.
Why Isn’t Threads Growing Faster?
The network effect is a key reason why Threads is still far behind X. The more people who engage with the app, the more engagement other users see. If a user posts multiple times and gets no likes or comments, that user may stop using the app or check it only rarely. On the other hand, if a user gets lots of interaction they will likely increase their use. At the moment, Threads doesn’t have the number of very active users to produce engagement like X does.
Threads’s growth has also been held back by its lack of features. For a month and a half, there was no useful web version of the app. Sharing features are limited. You can share this article on X with a click on the icon near the top, but to share on Threads you’ll have to copy the article URL and paste it into the app or website. I can embed a tweet (or, more precisely, an X post) in this article, but Threads doesn’t yet permit that. These and other technical limitations add friction to sharing both Threads content elsewhere and sharing content like photos on Threads.
Trending Topics: Boon Or Bane?
Reportedly, Threads will soon introduce a trending topics feature like X’s. This will help users engage with breaking news and popular topics and almost certainly increase time spent on the site or in the app.
The downside of this feature is the risk to Threads’s congenial environment. On X, trending topics turn into spam magnets with users hijacking the keyword or hashtag to post unrelated content.
Currently, neither X’s algorithm nor moderation seems to be able to control the spam or ban the users responsible for it. Apparently, Musk’s quest for better post aesthetics hasn’t found posts that contain multiple lines of blue-linked spammy hashtags as unattractive as a linked article headline.
How Threads Can Succeed
X seems particularly vulnerable today. Negativity and spam are rising. Changes, from renaming to “X” to dropping article headlines, are made at the Musk’s whim rather than because users wanted them.
To overcome X’s considerable network advantage, Threads must keep rolling out improvements to the user experience. External sharing must be as easy for Threads as for Facebook or X. Content and user discovery needs to be simple. Minor changes like clipboard image posting will drive more user content addition.
Above all, Threads has to maintain its key difference: an environment that is spam-free, misinformation-free and as hostility-free as possible. When users tire of partisan yelling at X, they need to see a truly different environment at Threads. The current Gaza conflict and the upcoming U.S. presidential election both offer the opportunity to distinguish the apps.