Back to the Echo Chamber: All That’s Wrong with Threads Right Now

User counts don’t matter much when comparing Threads to Twitter. Quality is what matters and I’m not seeing much of it on Threads at the moment.

Instagram has over 2 billion active users a month so it’s no wonder why Threads has as many users as it does already. Twitter is considerably smaller at only 237 million. It’s surprising Threads’ number isn’t larger given how little friction there is for existing Instagram users to set up an account.

The iPhone is a good comparative here: Apple has only 20% of the smartphone market yet makes sizable profits and drives much of the industry’s innovation. You don’t need to the biggest to be the best.

So why is Meta doing this? It’s the quality and level of influence that Twitter’s much smaller user base has, with a bulk of those users driving what the media talks about. Will these Twitter users jump ship? Likely not unless Meta builds something that’s better than Twitter to attract those users.

It appears as though Meta is putting its algorithmic fingers on the scale already in an effort to lock these influencers in, picking and choosing the winners here by promoting content from “verified” celebrity and media accounts over the rest of us. Every time I open the app that’s all I see on my front page, mostly from accounts I’m not following. This is no doubt a means of trying to demonstrate to celebrity users that they’ll have similar reach on Threads that they currently enjoy on Twitter. But it’s artifical.

These same celebrity users were complaining when Twitter’s new CEO Elon Musk put a stop to a similar strategy that stifled independent voices. The existing “blue checks” all threatened to leave but few did and Twitter’s traffic and engagement actually increased.

Meta’s verification process is as arbitrary as Twitter 1.0’s process where most smaller independent creators are left out of algorithmic recommendations. It’s also not clear if paying for Meta’s verification program gets you better placement in the algorithm. Either way it appears as though Meta’s strategy here is to build back the echo chamber lost when Twitter changed hands.

Will it be enough to kill Twitter? Probably not but they’ll likely build a decent ecosystem of Instagram users who want to share external links – something Instagram currently restricts.

My Local Media Appearances Talking About Threads

Meta/Facebook/Instagram’s new social media app Threads dropped the other day and has already attracted tens of millions of users. This is partly because the sign up process for existing Instagram users requires just a single click to get going.

Yesterday I appeared on WTIC-AM radio and WTIC/Fox 61 here in Connecticut to talk about the app and whether or not Twitter has anything to worry about.

Here’s the Fox 61 appearance:

And my radio interview with Brian Shactman on WTIC is here:

Twitter Bans Mastodon Links

This morning I was posting a link back to my Mastodon account on Twitter and got this message: “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.”

It looks as though this new ban applies to most if not all of the major Mastodon instances that are out there. This means that any link to a Mastodon account or a post on those instances are not even allowed to be posted on Twitter.

This comes in the wake of Elon Musk banning the “Elon Jet” account that was keeping track of the whereabouts of his private jet using publicly available ADS-B data. ADS-B data comes from a transponder required to be installed on most aircraft that transmits the airplane’s tail number, position, altitude, etc. These transmissions can be picked up on the ground with cheap hardware and free software as I demonstrated in this video (tune in at at the 8:53 mark).

Musk says that realtime doxxing (publicly posting private information about a person’s whereabouts) is not allowed and that any account doing it will be removed. He also extended the ban to accounts that link to that information elsewhere. Twitter took this action after Musk says a car carrying his young child was followed home from the airport and potentially blocked by a stalker. Musk posted a video of the alleged stalker along with the alleged stalker’s license plate but did not file a police report as of the time of this writing.

The question to be asked here is whether or not those owning and traveling in private jets have a reasonable expectation of privacy – especially as the position of those aircraft are broadcast unencrypted to other aircraft and stations on the ground.

This move runs counter to the “free speech” direction Musk says he wants Twitter to take. Additionally it appears to be counter to the free market principles that Musk purports to believe in. They could have blocked individual Mastodon links to the Elon Jet account as opposed to restricting any links to the entire fediverse – a competing network that is attracting many Twitter users.

Learn more about Mastodon here:

Twitter’s AI Took Down Astronomy Videos Too

Twitter has reinstated my account after it somehow determined that my video of the Artemis I launch was pornography. They also republished the post they took down back to my feed. You can see it here.

I’m not the only one this impacted. The BBC reports that an astronomer had the exact thing happen to her the other day. However in her case they shut down her account for 3 months, not the 12 hours they hit my account with.

Twitter has an appeal process but they don’t give the alleged violators a link to access those appeal tools. I only found out they existed when I googled it!

For what it’s worth Twitter says “it appears we made an error” and determined that my account committed “no violation.” So I’m now fully exonerated!

Chatting about Twitter with WTIC’s Brian Shactman

Every couple of weeks I appear on WTIC-AM’s morning drive show “Brian and Company” here in Connecticut. This week host Brian Shactman & I talk about Elon Musk’s recent acquisition of Twitter and what it might mean for users whether they have a blue check mark or not! Listen here:

Elon’s erratic behavior aside I do think there are opportunities for independent creators if the playing field is leveled and a revenue sharing model is developed.

The commoditization of the “blue check mark” that created two tiers of users allowed the prior ownership to pick winners and losers. Contrast that to YouTube where every piece of content has the chance to be successful based on how well it holds a viewer’s interest.

Years ago one of my laptop reviews on YouTube got placed higher in search than the same product reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. That was empowering and indicative of YouTube’s desire to be focused on users and develop a culture of partnership with those who submit content to the platform.

Twitter doesn’t give the smaller voices that same opportunity. The verification process was never fair to anyone and often it was about who you knew at Twitter as opposed to a true measure of the credibility and quality.

Twitter will have a bumpy ride ahead. I think there’s some opportunity for independent voices but time will tell depending on how competently these changes are implemented and rolled out to users.

Elon Musk’s Twitter Deal Isn’t Dead Yet

Rarely do my predictions come true but this time I might be on the right track! On May 2nd I suggested Twitter was overstating its value because of its bot problem – an issue that Elon Musk says is a material breach of his purchase agreement with the social media company.

Musk did them a favor by releasing this in a Friday night post-market news dump. This is going to gut their stock price on Monday as it raises serious doubts about the actual number of real, non-bot active users are on the platform. This was an issue I also covered in the May 2 video, where Twitter was forced to disclose that they overcounted actual users by about 1 million due to a software issue.

They really have no way to measure bots on the platform. Why? Because Wall Street demanded user growth. There’s no way engineers would implement any impediment to that growth – it’s engrained in the code and the culture there.

Ultimately user growth is a poor measurement. Twitter’s value I think comes from the weighty influence of the “small” number of actual users it does have. As @davewiner pointed out a few months ago Twitter really is a big newsroom/cocktail party.

My new prediction is this deal is still going to close – but perhaps closer to $25-30 billion which is probably what the company is really worth.

Twitter Deal “On Hold” Pending Due Diligence on User Numbers

I speculated about this in my May 2nd Weekly Wrapup video and now it appears as though it’s coming to pass:

Elon Musk today announced that the Twitter deal was “on hold” until he could verify the company’s claims that fake users account for only 5% of their overall user figures.

Any acquisition has a period of due diligence to ensure that the company being acquired is worth what the owners say it is – and in the case of Twitter the number of users is the foundation of Twitter’s value proposition.

As a mostly free service Twitter relies on advertising and advertisers want large audience numbers with some assurances that the audiences Twitter serves are actually real people.

Twitter has long struggled with calculating the exact number of unique users on their service. In fact they disclosed that they had been overstating user numbers from March 2019 through the end of 2021 according to their most recent quarterly results:

In March of 2019, we launched a feature that allowed people to link multiple separate accounts together in order to conveniently switch between accounts. An error was made at that time, such that actions taken via the primary account resulted in all linked accounts being counted as mDAU. This resulted in an overstatement of mDAU from Q1’19 through Q4’21.

This overstatement alone accounted for 1.9 million duplicated users. If Twitter is overstating users that they know are humans behind the keyboards how can anyone be confident in Twitter’s claims that fake users are only 5% of their user base? Given the company is incentivized to demonstrate user growth they likely did not invest the resources to detect fake accounts and remove them.

Musk is in the driver’s seat now. If he walks away from the deal the stock tanks as it will erode confidence in the validity of Twitter’s user numbers. Twitter’s Board of Directors will likely feel some pressure to reduce the $44 billion price tag to get the deal done.