On Monday morning, when precisely everyone Black and with a social media profile was talking about the Montgomery Riverboat Reparations Royal Rumble™, I opened up Threads, the new Meta-led social media microblogging platform that went live a month ago as a “Twitter killer.”
Even though the app is on the home screen of my iPhone, I don’t often think to see what folks are “threading” about. But I was thirsty for more scuttlebutt on the Alabama rumble.
I scrolled down three days’ worth of posts from celebrities and people I know in real life. I saw a bunch of motivational quotes and ruminations about life, but not one post about how several of my skinfolk made the ancestors proud with good old-fashioned hair-pulling, folding-chair-slamming, river-tossing vengeance. Not one.
That’s when I realized Threads is probably doomed.
Indeed, the world is still on the search for a replacement for the erstwhile Twitter (now called X in what has to be the worst corporate rebrand since the new Gap logo.) Owner Elon Musk has spent the nearly 10 months since purchasing the service doing what he can to repulse users and advertisers alike, and so many want out ― but finding a worthy successor has proved challenging.
Threads became the fastest-growing social media in history in large part because it offered near-seamless integration from Instagram, which has more than 2 billion users, and because it launched in the same week that Musk imposed a temporary limit on viewing tweets, which invited so much backlash he dialed that back quickly.
It didn’t take long for Threads to give me Google Plus vibes: a good idea with questionable execution. In the beginning, there was a decent amount of people posting on my feed, but compared to Twitter, it feels aesthetically… bland.
There’s a good reason millions of users have already abandoned Threads: It’s missing core functionality that would make it a genuine “X killer,” including the ability to send direct messages, hashtag topics, search engine functionality, desktop functionality or a “For You” feed. (What’s Threads if I can’t log on and click on “Spreadie Gibbs”? Seriously, don’t click on this hyperlink. You’ve been warned.)
And, if we’re being honest with our god and that part of ourselves we reveal to our therapists, the fact that you can’t post or search the dirty stuff in Mark Zuckerberg’s Candy Land universe will keep many of you right there on the Bird app.
(Oh, and user beware: Leaving Threads has the trash trojan horse of requiring you to also delete your Instagram account.)
X’s July viewing limitation also drove a lot of Black people to Spill, a social media app that was launched by former Twitter employees (and the only Black guys in the room) Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell and Devaris Brown. In contrast to Threads, Spill has visual flair to spare.
Its designers wanted for it to be the new haven for Black Twitter (Black Spill?) while also allowing other marginalized communities to engage without being attacked ― unlike the petri dish of Musk’s X, where the digital red carpet is rolled out for shitty human beings to type whatever shitty things their imaginations can conjure.
“Everybody who’s in Black Twitter or any of these other communities knows that it’s powered by Black women. Setting all the trends… is part of that but also getting way more hate than any other group…. and then just any marginalized group. If you’re queer, you’re in certain historically targeted groups overseas, it’s awful to be online and be on social,” Terrell said on AfroTech.
Spoutible is another Black-created social media app with the aim of mitigating bullying. Creator Christopher Bouzy based Spoutible’s design on his own Twitter analytics service Bot Sentinel, which is designed to spot and clip bad-faith posters, or “spouters,” as it were.
“Building a platform like Twitter is not difficult,” he told Wired. “All it is is a fancy message board — you’re just taking people’s posts and storing them in a database.”
Though I love the idea of supporting Black social media, neither Spill nor Spoutible have a lot of traction in an environment in which we’ve gotten used to the functionality of X. Even as we want so desperately to tell Musk to shove it up his white supremacist-courting ass, we’re still hitting that stupid white X imposed on a black background on our phones to see about the latest mess.
We also need to keep it a buck and acknowledge that any social media platform with a decent number of followers will likely contain all the things we hate about social media.
Data collection is one of the biggest enduring social media gripes. If you have a profile on any of the major platforms ― and about 90% of Americans do ― you’ve likely already contributed the data equivalent of several pints of blood. Though I’ve done it several times before, I was a bit annoyed as I handed over my email and phone number to sign up for Spill.
Bluesky is a decentralized social media network, which means your private information isn’t being collated in one space and monetized. That makes it much harder for a hacker to jack your info and use it for nefarious means. (The new Ashley Madison documentary demonstrates the consequences of giving up your sensitive information with the aim of being a piece of shit.)
Zuck promised Threads would be decentralized, but that isn’t the case so far, which shouldn’t come as a surprise from a company that was forced to shell out $725 million in a data breach settlement. Besides, folks say they want decentralized apps like Mastodon, but who do you know on Mastodon?
Though X has become a haven for neo-Nazis and men who love their Oakley glasses, the inconvenient truth is that these asshats are catalysts for Black Twitter (I can’t bring myself to type “Black X”) content. Racism, intolerance and general foolery drive social media, and we secretly like the mess, which is why reality television is still kicking when everyone thought it was an early aughts fad.
Will people bring negative content from X to discuss on Threads? If that’s the case, why not just stay on X?
As long as social media offers some degree of anonymity for people to voice their unfettered opinions, they’ll abuse that privilege on any platform. I believe app creators count on this, regardless of how much they claim to be anti-bullying. Social media app creation is not an act of noblesse oblige. Everyone wants to have the most followers ― and to eventually make money from you.
Given this, I’m unconvinced that a world with more social media options is a better place. I have friends who believe it’s all cancerous regardless of who is running the app and simply reject them all. Sadly, I lack such discipline ― as long as Tony Baker cat videos exist, social media has me.