Why is Twitter so worried about Threads?

7 Jul 2023

Elon Musk. Image: Daniel Oberhaus (CC BY 2.0)

Musk is threatening to sue Meta over its latest Threads social app, which got more than 30m sign-ups within 24 hours and ‘looks almost identical’ to Twitter.

Elon Musk was not this worried when people were flocking to Mastodon after he took charge of Twitter. For one, Mastodon – and other alternatives at the time – looked and felt very different to Twitter. And then there’s the fact that Twitter has an estimated 350-400m monthly active users, numbers any new app would take ages to compete with.

Any new app, except Threads. Meta’s latest social media platform, poised to be the next app to take advantage of the mess Musk has made, has the advantage of being linked to Instagram, which itself has around 1.2bn monthly users.

And unsurprisingly, Threads has been raking in users in the millions. Within the first 24 hours of its launch, Mark Zuckerberg’s latest brainchild boasted more than 30m sign-ups. This is despite the fact that Threads has not launched in the EU yet, likely over data protection concerns.

It is not out of the blue, therefore, that Musk is tapping his feet anxiously. The billionaire has threatened Meta with a lawsuit over allegations that Threads looks too similar to Twitter, is an affront to its IP, and was built by former Twitter employees who hold on to trade secrets.

At least that’s what Twitter lawyer Alex Spiro claims in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg dated 5 July, first reported on by Semafor yesterday (6 July). In it, Spiro accuses Meta of “systematic, wilful and unlawful misappropriation” of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property.

How is Threads a threat?

Spiro claims that Meta has hired “dozens” of former Twitter employees over the past year. Twitter’s official stance is that these employees “had and continue to have” access to Twitter’s trade secrets and other “highly confidential information”.

He goes on to state that these employees owe “ongoing obligations” to Twitter and that many of them have “improperly retained” Twitter documents and electronic devices.

“Twitter intends to strictly enforce its intellectual property rights and demands that Meta take immediate steps to stop using any Twitter trade secrets or other highly confidential information,” Spiro wrote in the strongly worded letter.

“Twitter reserves all rights, including, but not limited to, the right to seek both civil remedies and injunctive relief without further notice to prevent any further retention, disclosure or use of its intellectual property by Meta.”

Only time will tell if Twitter follows through with his threat, and whether the claims made are true, but – to be fair to Musk – many journalists who have used Threads seem to be taken aback by the astounding similarity it bears to Twitter.

“The app looks almost identical to Twitter. The news feed, the reposting. It’s all incredibly familiar,” wrote James Clayton, North America technology correspondent for BBC News.

“If you’re familiar with Twitter, you’ll recognise the design of Threads instantly. Everything from the heart-shaped symbol to ‘like’ a post, to the circle of arrows denoting the feature to repost, is the same,” added BBC technology editor Zoe Kleinman.

And while the new app will have a lot to work on over the coming months, it definitely stands out as the strongest contender as a Twitter alternative since Twitter became a Twitter alternative last October.

“Feels like the beginning of something special, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead to build out the app,” Zuckerberg wrote on Threads yesterday. So special that Threads is now one of the most downloaded apps on Apple’s China app store despite Instagram being banned in the country.

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Elon Musk. Image: Daniel Oberhaus (CC BY 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic