By Tom Ozimek
Mark Zuckerberg’s new Threads app, billed by some as the “Twitter-killer,” has barely launched and it’s already being accused of censoring speech.
The Meta CEO’s new platform has racked up 70 million sign-ups within a day of its launch, apparently putting it on track to threaten the dominance of Elon Musk’s Twitter.
“70 million sign ups on Threads as of this morning, ” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a post on his Threads account. “That’s way beyond our expectations.”
Some analysts say Mr. Zuckerberg’s new offering, which has been described as a text-based version of the photo-sharing app Instagram, could be a big headache for Twitter, which has threatened to sue Meta over what it described as a “copycat” app that exploited Twitter’s trade secrets and intellectual property to accelerate its development.
But barely a day after its launch, concerns have already been raised about the Zuckerberg-backed app’s restrictions on speech.
“When Mark Zuckerberg—the owner of Meta, Facebook, Threads, and WhatsApp—announced Threads, he said it would be a free and open platform,” said author and investigative reporter Michael Shellenberger, who was one of those who broke some of the “Twitter Files” instalments that exposed the inner workings of Twitter’s censorship machine prior to the Musk takeover.
“Well, right away, there were users who showed that they had been censored,” Mr. Shellenberger added in an interview on Fox News late Thursday.
‘Already Flagged Me For Censorship’
Mr. Schellenberger gave as an example the apparent action taken against the new Threads account of known conservative commentator Rogan O’Hanley, who goes by the handle @DC-Draino on Twitter.
Mr. O’Hanley took to Twitter to say that he had just downloaded Threads and “posted once about wanting to expose Biden’s corrupt government and they’ve already flagged me for censorship.”
A screenshot shared by O’Hanley shows a warning label on his Threads profile for anyone that wants to follow him.
“Are you sure you want to follow dc_draino?” the Threads app asked users, per the screenshot. “This account has repeatedly posted false information that was reviewed by independent fact-checkers or went against our Community Guidelines,” it added.
Reports indicate that a number of other conservative accounts received similar warning labels.
The Libs of TikTok account on Twitter shared a screenshot of a notification that a Threads post has been removed.
“Non-binary isn’t real,” was the subject of the removed post, with the label indicating that it was removed because it “goes against our guidelines on hate speech or symbols.”
If a particular Thread post is seen as going against the app’s community guidelines, which are based on Instagram’s Community Guidelines, it seems that it will get flagged for action.
According to Instagram Community Guidelines, the Threads app may “remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech” as well as content that “targets private individuals to degrade or shame them.”
At the same time, the guidelines promise to “generally allow stronger conversation around people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience due to their profession or chosen activities.”
But Mr. Shellenberger said that the app is going too far in the direction of censorship.
“This is secretive censorship and there’s no right of appeal,” he said of efforts to suppress people like Mr. O’Hanley, who Mr. Shellenberger said has been targeted for expressing “election scepticism.”
Mr. Shellenberger added there’s no way for anyone who’s been censored to make their case and to try to get off the black lists.
He said it’s ironic that Mr. Zuckerberg launched Threads a day after an “incredible historic ruling for free speech by a federal judge” blocking the Biden administration from pressuring social media companies to censor posts.
“One day later, there’s Mark Zuckerberg out with Threads that’s censoring users, and doing so secretly without right of recourse,” he said.
In a similar vein, conservative firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) took to Twitter to say she’s “definitely sure Threads will be the same Marxist style social media experience that Mr. Zuckerberg usually offers,” while sharing a screenshot showing a warning label displayed when someone was trying to follow Donald Trump Jr.’s account on Threads.
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.
Deleting Threads Controversy
Besides taking heat for censorship, Threads has also been criticized for restrictions on deleting accounts.
“People are realizing Threads is just a censorship platform and trying to delete their accounts,” O’Hanley said in a post on Twitter. “But they can’t,” he added.
“Zuck tethered it to your Instagram so if you delete one, both get deleted,” he continued. “Everyone signing up must stay,” he continued, comparing the app to a “digital Berlin Wall.”
A number of people have complained about the restriction.
“I deactivated my Threads account already. But it turns out you can’t delete your Threads account without also deleting your Instagram account. So, maybe just don’t sign up!” Emily Hughes, an author and editor, said in a July 6 tweet.
Not all voices have been critical of Threads. Some see the app as a positive development and a needed competitor for Twitter.
“I think Threads will outperform most people’s expectations,” Roberto Nickson, an entrepreneur and content creator, said in a July 4 tweet.
“There is strong pent-up demand for a Twitter alternative. Bluesky, Mastodon, and others have recently enjoyed record growth. But unlike the others, Threads is starting from an already existing user-base. Which happens to be the largest in the world,” he pointed out.
Pinar Yildirim, associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said that existing ad relationships from Instagram and Facebook should help Threads’ revenue.
“Facebook is a less uncertain bet compared to Twitter and a bigger player in the ad market,” he told Reuters.
But success for Threads seems far from guaranteed. Industry watchers have pointed to Meta’s track record of starting standalone apps that were later shut down.
Threads is also still in its early days, with users noting some glitches and expressing gripes about missing features.
Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino highlighted the platform’s commitment to free speech in an apparent dig at Threads.
“On Twitter YOU can be real,” she said in a post. “This is your public square.”
“We’re often imitated — but the Twitter community can never be duplicated.”