Threads & The Novelty High


July 15, 2023

On June 5th, 2023, a new social media application entitled Threads was announced by Facebook’s parent company Meta. After almost a year of criticisms, Twitter seems to finally have a competitor.

The announcement practically broke the internet. Within just one day, over 30 million users had opened an account on Threads. By all stretches of the imagination, this was a historic event which broke records on a scale never seen before in the virtual social landscape.

There is definitely no doubt that social media has shaped and defined our lives for over a decade to date. Our perceptions of one another have been altered, perhaps permanently, by the selective visions we offer to the public. When this realization is considered, one is likely to approach their social media feed with a skeptical eye. Obviously, the potential to craft a positive illusion is highly enticing for many people.

The opportunity to create an identity from scratch is quite the invite. In many ways, it offers the potential of rebirth while presenting little to no consequence. Despite this fact, the choice to show the public a curated lens into your life may lead to one living a lie of some kind or another.

Just like the aforementioned opportunity of rebirth, the offering of an entirely new social media platform is an invite to a new beginning. All data and previous postings may be let go, with an entirely new being now born from the ashes of a purge.

When a new movement, technology or idea is announced, I often see what I refer to as a “novelty high”. That is, the rise of a new or novel idea tends to excite and overwhelm the senses. After all, it appears to be an entirely new being.

Just ten days ago, when Meta announced the launch of Threads, the waves of hype were practically inescapable, with a flood of chatter traveling at the speed of light. Like living under a rock, the act of not hearing about this new app may have been impossible.

The way in which they announced this app was quite the sight to see. For one, to create a Threads account, one must tie it to their Instagram account. Without an Instagram account, one cannot make one on Threads. This essentially treats both accounts as soulbound, creating a permanent one-way sign up process.

When your Threads account is soulbound to your Instagram profile, you cannot delete your profile on Threads without also killing your account on Instagram. This essentially allows the numbers of users on Threads to always rise, as a vast majority wouldn’t dare to risk deleting their original Instagram account. There’s no doubt that this method also provides a unique opportunity to fight against bots and bad actors by raising the stakes while limiting the potential supply of accounts.

The format of Threads is rather simple to understand. After all, it’s quite literally designed to be a direct competitor to Twitter. In that context, one begins to understand the layout of the app pretty easily. It is primarily a text-based interface, with the ability to like, repost and comment on other posts, which are appropriately called threads.

Despite being an unsaid competitor to Twitter, it currently lacks any long-form media. One is limited in the amount they may write within each thread, and features similar to Clubhouse and Twitter’s spaces are completely non-existent. In addition to this, there appears to be no way to bookmark posts to return back to, nor are there any ways to revisit threads you’ve previously liked. The feed is also randomized, making any hope of consuming news practically impossible. Even the application itself is just that, a platform limited to a mobile app with no version on desktop.

Many of those who are leaving Twitter are doing so from the perspective of fighting the establishment. At this point we’ve reduced the contributions of countless people into a fight between two billionaire figureheads known as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. It’s easy to feel enticed by tribalism, especially in the age of sensational entertainment traveling at the speed of light across practical and political spheres alike.

While reading this, my goal is not to spark yet another moment where you’re forced to choose or change sides from one to another. It is clear that Elon Musk’s handling of Twitter has received an immense amount of criticism. From the monetization of the beloved blue checkmark, to the claims of harmful content and the current debacle of viewing limits, the handling of Twitter under Musk’s leadership certainly deserves criticism.

Despite this, it feels as if we’ve forgotten that Zuckerberg’s Meta owns Facebook, Instagram, Oculus and now Threads. By almost every stretch of the imagination, Zuckerberg is the definition of the establishment.

One of the largest criticisms of Meta over the past five years have been in the context of censorship. During the late fall, the release of the infamous Twitter Files revealed a layer of cooperation between corporation and government never seen before in American life. Vague discussions of misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech have fueled an environment where censorship is not only justified, but actively encouraged.

What happens when we outsource the act of thought to a centralized authority?

A quick look through history is all one needs to answer such a question. The daring act of criticizing authority in past states, and even today, have led and continue to lead to tyrannical oppression of an intense degree. When someone is threatened by law against speaking their mind, a terrifying chilling effect is sent across the free-thinking masses.

What if you had the words to inspire millions, yet instead you stayed silent?

The term “free speech absolutism” has been raised quite a bit over the course of the past year and a half. When one refers to the practically unlimited expression of speech, one isn’t referring to inciting violence against others. They are typically elevating the necessity of countering poor and hateful speech with even better speech. When someone claims one thing, the ability to call it out freely always outweighs the potential tyranny brought about through forced censorship by the government.

One of many pitches which Threads offers is that it will be a more “welcoming” and “less angry” environment. Yet what does that truly mean? Who gets to define what is angry and unwelcoming? Who will hold the power to delete the posts of some, while deciding to keep the posts of others?

Let us look at the concept of political art for a moment. Although the Apollo Art Exchange specifically strays away from curating overtly political art, we recognize and even defend the necessity of others to create political forms of art if they wish. What will happen when certain forms of political art are allowed or even actively encouraged, while other artistic political expressions are deemed too angry or unwelcoming? This is where the concerns of many with Threads begin to manifest.

One of the most intense debates we’ve recently witnessed in the art world has been about the concept of AI Generative art. Some view it as outright plagiarism, while others don’t view it as art at all. In a space such as Threads, what will happen to AI artists if their expression is deemed as a negative and oppressive form of theft?

Regardless of where you stand in the debate on the AI Generative medium, would you turn a blind eye if the accounts of all AI artists were suddenly deleted overnight for violating Threads’ community guidelines? What type of precedent would that set for musicians who sample, and what will happen to artists who draw heavy inspiration from others' styles and symbolism?

It’s easy to defend a position from the perspective of kindness, compassion and good intentions. Despite this, many live in an age where the ability to freely express yourself is considered the norm, as if it will never go away.

There’s no doubt that new platforms are as enticing as a new style, movement or work of art. We all feel a calling to exploration, especially those who consider themselves the creative type. The sense of novelty is simply too exciting to turn down.

Let us make no mistake. It may take weeks, months, or even multiple years.

Yet when the novelty high finally wears off, what will we think of Threads?