In the last few days, 90 million of us popped in to try on new Threads. We fumbled our way round the dressing rooms, looking for people we know and, unwittingly perhaps, brought new material to the table, ready to be cut and trimmed to fit as yet unknown forms.
This week's launch reminded me of one of my fondest social media memories - 2010, 'watching' New Zealand’s football team compete in the World Cup. The visuals were on television but the collaborative live commentary via Twitter was the real winner. Threads won this week simply because people are tired, want to catch up and chat and don’t want the stresses and strains of argument and ego that have permanently stained the other outfits.
As Threads dangled from the servers we were momentarily captivated by the shy, exploratory tone we found there. Suddenly there was personal uncertainty regarding place and behaviour. It didn’t seem to be a showroom for the brash influencers with dollar-driven hacks and lavish travel budgets. It didn’t seem to be for the shouty people determined to drown out every voice but their own. And, almost miraculously - for the first 48 hours - it seemed that nobody was up in your face selling stuff. Old friends were found, new connections made - goodness me, for a moment or two it all looked marvellous. For an instant, like a cracked mirror catching the sunlight, we glimpsed a reflection of the past possibilities offered to us by social media. A place where we could meet, talk about anything and everything and find human connection of the 'kind' kind.
But, as we bravely tried on the new outfit and enjoyed the cosier feel of this new space, behind the scenes technical tailors have been invisibly stitching our data into the fabric of the Meta ecosystem.
I spent some time reading the terms and conditions - after all, its only been a week or two since Black Mirror’s Joan is Awful - and they led me back to the Instagram terms. I'd not looked at these for ages (joined in 2011) and they served as a grim reminder of the daily data harvest the company reaps. The 'free' conversation on Threads is also the perfect training ground for new AI models and potentially a natural progression of the intent indicated in Meta’s blog posts on their LLaMA (Large Language Model Meta AI).
Information is power and unfettered information is a training tapestry to be unravelled and upcycled ready for the next use.
So what does it mean for us?
The potential for user influence on the future direction of any social platform is severely limited in today’s world which is why we will never see another ‘Twitter’ as it emerged in 2006. If today’s social media was to post a status update, it would be 'feeling stale and stagnant, submersed by the power of a few'. But still we return, because our human need is for genuine connection and good relationships. Hope - and blind faith - lead us to believe that the latest outfit on show will fulfil that need but, sadly, I think in time we’ll find ourselves laid bare, stripped of data with our identity in tatters.
Note: I also published this piece on LinkedIn today - https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/emperors-new-threads-catherine-arrow
About Think Forward
Think Forward is written by Catherine Arrow. It answers PR questions, highlights practice trends - good and bad - and suggests ways forward for professional public relations and communication practitioners.