Nothing is Going to Replace What Twitter Once Was
Threads will only get so far
Instagram is the Twitter-killer. So decrees the media. But isn’t Twitter dying anyway? In one sense, yes. Liberals addicted to Twitter will tell you Elon Musk, billionaire troll, has done it, forgetting that Twitter was losing its purchase in the culture before 2022, when Musk finally overpaid for a micro-blogging platform with vastly fewer users than Facebook or Instagram. Twitter, like all social media that has come before it, had a peak. That peak has visibly passed. Facebook’s peak has passed as well—at least as a place that feels urgent and new, a genuine locus for anyone under fifty. But Facebook exists, and will keep existing. Twitter will too.
In that sense, Twitter may never die.
All other Twitter imitators have failed because of an old Catch-22: they need people to function, and people need to see a lot of other people before they feel comfortable showing up. If growth isn’t rapid enough, it never happens. Facebook, originally, was just a popular place for students from select colleges to meet. Then, as interest grew, it was expanded to all college campuses. Finally, everyone was allowed in. By then, everyone you knew was on Facebook, like everyone you knew had a cellphone and an email address.
Twitter, too, was where everyone—if you worked in media, tech, politics, or cared about these things—seemed to end up. It was simultaneously entertaining, enriching, grating, and horrifying. It was, for a while, everything, and this was not, largely, good for the culture. The apotheosis of Twitter was probably Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump created and destroyed entire news cycles with his tweets. For a time, almost every voting American was forced to care about Twitter.
That time is over, and it’s not coming back. Instagram, owned by Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, wants to eat Twitter’s lunch with Threads. Threads, as far as I can tell, is like Twitter, only duller. Facebook has systemically excised news and politics from its newsfeed, to the point where any article shared will be consigned to oblivion by the algorithm. This was Facebook’s response to 2016, when many liberals blamed Zuckerberg for the rise of Trump, because it turned out it wasn’t only starry-eyed Obama liberals who used social media. Who knew? Zuckerberg, who is somewhat desperate to be one of the good guys again—when it was believed Facebook helped make Barack Obama president, the 24-year-old Harvard graduate was treated like a young Cincinnatus—wants to crush Musk, a fellow billionaire, at his own game. Instagram has more than 2 billion users, compared to Twitter’s less than 400 million. More than 100 million of these Instagram users have signed up for Threads. Twitter traffic is “tanking,” CNBC reports. It’s all a nice distraction from Zuckerberg’s VR money pit.
And yet, Threads will never replace Twitter. The relevancy and prestige that Twitter once enjoyed will never be regained—not by Twitter, or anyone else.