The world’s richest man bought Twitter and started making changes. The “For You” tab was prioritized over the accounts users selected to follow. Blue checkmarks went on sale and no longer were a recognition of authenticity and notability. Users now need to pay to be seen. And then Elon Musk proclaimed users would be rate limited depending on how much money they coughed up.
This is a lot of change for the people who spent many years, in some instances well over a decade, building an audience on the service. The people who helped turn Twitter into the special place it always has been could no longer communicate with their followers to the degree they had in the past. A lot of users’ feeds turned into clickbait threads, conspiracy theories, and other various assortments of garbage. This type of rapid sea change is unprecedented in the modern internet era. Open platforms have crippled their developer ecosystems in the past (e.g. Facebook and Zynga, Twitter and their various third-party clients, and Reddit as of late), but in this instance the very nature of the service changed so dramatically on a dime for all of its users, not just its third-party developers.
Like a knight in shining armor, Meta launched Threads last week as the antidote to the Twitter calamity. The most important piece of Thread news thus far is this post by Adam Mosseri, the Head of Instagram and Threads:
The ability to own your own audience and move it with you to another service is a profoundly important ideal that is diametrically opposed to every incentive of the incumbent platforms. It’s both remarkable and encouraging to see Meta commit to this. It is also very much aligned with the ideals crypto believers have espoused: that applications should be built on open protocols with portability, composability, and transparency as defining characteristics. Fred Wilson wrote an excellent piece on the importance of this moment and how it can lead to a new, vibrant and open social media ecosystem.
For a long time people have thrown out hypothetical scenarios about what would happen if an important platform started to censor its users or changed so drastically that what was once a critical piece of digital communication infrastructure degraded or became obsolete. It could conceivably leave billions of people in the dark. Plenty of people have individually been de-platformed in the past, but the rapid changes at Twitter are the first time a global population (in the West) has simultaneously experienced such tangible change at a mass scale. The hypothetical is now real, and the aforementioned concept articulated by Mosseri is far and away what matters most for the future of social media. Let’s hope Threads sees this commitment through and a new precedent is created.