The company’s evident disinterest in nurturing its new app into a valuable hub of breaking news and world events is the latest indication that Meta’s new Twitter copycat Threads is unlikely to match the soul of its predecessor.
In response to The Verge’s Alex Heath’s question, Instagram head Adam Mosseri, who is also the default hype guy for Threads, stated that Meta’s goal is “to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Twitter (and other platforms) that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter.”
He went on to say:
“I don’t want to imply otherwise, but politics and hard news are important.” But, in my opinion, any incremental engagement or cash generated by a platform is not worth the scrutiny, criticism (let’s be honest), or integrity problems that come with them.
There are more than enough incredible communities – sports, music, fashion, beauty, entertainment, and so on – to create a lively platform without getting into politics or hard news.”
Mosseri’s perspective is unusual and perhaps concerning for several reasons. For one thing, it mirrors some of the bland ways Facebook has portrayed itself over the years: basically a huge, nice, neutral site where people might “connect” — Mark Zuckerberg’s favourite pitch, which conjures imagery of a male and female USB cord making love. Contrary to its declared neutrality, his firm ritualistically rewarded specific types of information and behaviour, leading Facebook users further into ideological echo chambers and fueling the flames of the division and extremism that plagues world politics today.
Mosseri, the former head of Facebook’s News Feed, is aware of all of this, but appears to be learning the wrong lessons.
Following its humiliating failings during the 2016 presidential election and subsequent participation in hosting the Stop the Steal movement, which culminated in the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, Facebook chose to rebrand and flee. Mosseri’s pretence that Meta’s ambition for a social network floating in a vacuum, never changing the world for the better or worse, is in any way attainable is bizarre.
Of course, “politics and hard news” will find their way onto Threads; in fact, anti-LGBTQ hate group Libs of TikTok has already tested the waters there. Without Meta’s investment in or preparation for counterbalancing forces, extremism and viral disinformation will outcompete any reputable news providers that choose to invest in the new app.
Meta has clearly lost interest in promoting journalism these days. The firm has traditionally been content to extract what it wants from news organizations in exchange for bait and switch methods, if that. Meta is presently limiting news access in Canada in order to protest a new rule requiring the tech giant to compensate publishers. (At the moment, the corporation is worth $745 billion.)
Aside from Meta’s anti-journalism crusade, Mosseri’s view of the public square is completely ahistorical.
Instagram and, more recently, Threads are relentlessly designed to mix regular users with marketers, encouraging commercial behaviour at every point. And, while social media executives frequently invoke the lofty concept of a virtual public square or town hall to advance their mission, public squares aren’t merely for trade and commerce. Historically, they’ve also served as the centre of culture and a forum for political debate, which is an inherent byproduct of living in a society.
Mark Zuckerberg, a self-proclaimed Classics buff who named his children after Roman emperors, would surely understand that the Roman Forum was more than simply a rustic commercial centre, but a location where people could meet, engage in political life, and hear the day’s news.
Meta’s concentration on a reduced, commodified image of public life filled to the gills with advertising matches the company’s narrow vision, but it’s a depressing though unsurprising turn for a promising Twitter replacement to show such little interest in the world.