Threads is here. It’s Twitter, but on Instagram. If that makes sense to you, we’re sorry, and also, you are the target audience for Threads: people who like to publish text posts on the internet but say they have ~worries~ (with tildes, just like that) about Elon Musk, the billionaire-king who now owns the bird app. Threads might bring excitement, even hope to those who have benefited from posting short bits of online text to the world—journalists, influencers, white nationalists, #brands, et al. But those feelings may be misguided. Social media cannot become good again, because we will not let it evolve. It can merely live and die over and over, like a zombie.

With great exhaustion, we hereby rehearse the backstory. In 2006, a handful of mostly already successful tech entrepreneurs started Twitter as a weird experiment for posting short textual quips. This idea was novel: People blogged at the time, but blogs demanded commitment, and even short blog posts were long. Email and Facebook were all semi-private; you talked to your friends or your unfortunate uncle. Smartphones weren’t widespread, and the notion of posting your lunch or your extremely misguided political views to the world was iconoclastic.

But Twitter never thrived like its social-media cousins. Facebook became a bajillion-dollar, civilization-destroying kaiju-company, absorbing Instagram, which swelled to 2 billion users, and WhatsApp. As part of its conquest, Facebook stole a now-obvious idea from Twitter: encouraging people to post publicly as often as possible. That idea took hold everywhere, even on LinkedIn, a website previously used for sales networking. Even so, Twitter became uniquely popular as a posting destination among media professionals, the Black community, academics, and corporations.

Then, last year, Musk bought it and started dismantling the place. Users longed to recover stability or eschew toxicity, as if those properties had ever really been present on Twitter, a profoundly unstable and abusive place. Mastodon, a confusing distributed platform, arose as an alternative; also Bluesky, another copycat app started by the Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, and Spill, and probably more besides. Some tweeters decamped as refugees, but many have persisted on Twitter, its network effects and the inertia of habit proving too much to overcome even as the platform decays.

[Read: Elon Musk really broke Twitter this time]

Mark Zuckerberg—who has jockeyed to fight Musk in an actual cage match, with his literal human hands and body—apparently sensed an opportunity. His Instagram team made a copy, just as it had cloned Snapchat and TikTok features before. The result, Threads, appeared on app stores last night. (Musk has reportedly threatened to sue Meta already.) Threads is Twitter, but you can import your Instagram profile and network, to some extent. Then you post. This is what the universe wants from your mind and your fingertips.

By dinnertime, those of us with unhealthy relationships to Twitter had already begun doing just that: following and posting, posting and hearting and “rethreading,” or whatever it’s called when you retweet on Threads. One of the authors of this piece, we won’t reveal who, even enabled notifications to feel the warm buzz of approval as our comrades rushed into the newest and least cool club on the internet: a Twitter clone run by Facebook.

Listen, it felt good. Just like it felt good when we went through this same process 10 months ago on Mastodon and two months ago on Bluesky. It’s shameful to admit, or at least the two of us are ashamed to admit it. Maybe we won’t have to admit it if we just keep inventing new apps to do the same thing. The deterioration of Twitter, a real-time, global online news network, feels like a real loss, so the promise of its possible recovery inspires, as saccharine as that sentiment may be—even if that recovery comes from Meta.

But also, as media professionals too foolish, busy, or truculent to diversify, we have made a substantial investment in Twitter as a locus for personal and professional attention. Converting our hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers into hundreds of Threads ones overnight felt, well, ridiculous and glorious. Mastodon might be good for IT professionals, and Bluesky for people who word-process in LibreOffice or refuse to patronize Starbucks. But a social network only works when it builds network effects. And Zuckerberg knows how to build network effects. Last night, he posted in a thread on Threads, “I think there should be a public conversations app with 1 billion+ people on it. Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will.” If you have followed the past decade of unfettered global chaos that we like to call the social-media era, you likely understand that this is a truly terrifying proclamation. In any event, it might come true: Zuckerberg has claimed that 30 million people had joined Threads by this morning.

Threads also feels fun. Zuckerberg may have spent billions on the decaying mall food court that is the metaverse, but the man is bang on about one thing: There is no drug quite like porting over your entire follower graph and instantaneously having people hooting and hollering for your content. Thus begins the sacred ritual—the agony and the ecstasy and self-reinvention of Joining a New Platform. People we actually knew were posting posts of curiosity and joy. We can’t easily copy and paste examples here, because Threads is only available on an app (although you can access sharing links), but even that feels refreshing: a short-text social network somewhat firewalled from the computer, where work and taxes happen. We felt chaos too—the Threads feed, constructed by an unseen algorithm, shows posts from whomever, and not from the threaders you follow. That felt bad to some people, who consider it overwhelming or dangerous not to be able to curate their feeds. But it also felt nostalgic, evoking a positive memory of the time when social media was new and good (or not yet bad).

But that joy also feels misguided, misplaced, or simply out of time—from an era that definitively ended. The aughties era of universal social-media onboarding that includes Twitter was defined by Millennial optimism and its whoop-whoop soundtrack. Behold my youthful face and body! Behold my mimosa-encrusted brunch! Behold my career as an individual discharging ideas, takes, or takedowns! Threads represents a memory of a time that has probably passed but of which we cannot yet let go. Or maybe the planetary gravity of a company the size of Meta will create its own physics and, for a brief and glorious moment, hold us in the golden hour of posting slightly enhanced pictures of ourselves with our friends as we sit smiling around plates of tapas.

As evening dimmed to night, excitement and possibility drifted into a crepuscular sorrow, if a modest one. With a few threads posted, and the most eager followees following or followed, the dopamine high cleared, revealing reality: The age of social media is over, and it cannot be recovered. Zuckerberg has merely copied and pasted a social network, and we are back where we started, only with all the baggage and psychological scarring of previous connectivity experiences. Big tech companies now dictate where attention, and therefore money, power, and influence, reside. You don’t have to like that fact to admit that it’s the case: Is Threads a thing? Should we be on it? MrBeast has 1 million Thread followers already.

The looming questions behind Threads, or really any of the new discourse-producing posting factories, are simple and vaguely existential: Who, if anyone, is this for? Did anyone ask for this? Why are these hot people with excellent skin, blue check marks, and 750,000 followers so excited?

Perhaps it’s because a platform that hosts and distributes short text posts—not email forwards from your aunt, dog or baby pics from your former classmates, or influencer thirst traps or wellness-product advertisements—has merit. The core idea of Twitter—short dispatches made from words alone, or nearly so—has facilitated a real culture, many cultures: camaraderie over news events, whether glorious or tragic; shared shame or glee over the plight of today’s “main character”; joy on Black Twitter; advantage-seeking among media personalities parlaying publication into opportunity; even horror at Twitter’s own descent into abuse and conspiracy.

Still, there’s a weird cognitive dissonance at play these first few hours on a new posting app, here in the twilight of the social-media era. The inveterate posters—the creators who rely on having a renewable resource of fire hoses in which to blast out content, and the ones who are proud of their internet-brain damage—are firing off missives with the giddiness of two kids who just discovered that their walkie-talkies work across the neighborhood. These individuals are simply excited because beginnings are exciting, but there’s also something delusional about it all. The cascade of new followers, the collective rush of establishing new communication norms on the fly with friends and total strangers—all of that is fleeting. And the true sickos know what happens next: the trolls, the spam, the ads, the Conversations About Politics. Even if those things never materialize, the nagging feeling is still there. It’s not exactly like rebuilding your home on the coastline after it was destroyed by a hurricane, but the vibe is similar: rebirth and hope, but also regret and dread. If only it had all just fallen into the sea.

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