Meta’s platform Threads considers ads as rivalry with X approaches first anniversary

A smartphone running the app Threads
The platform Threads was rushed to market last year as an alternative to X, formerly called Twitter. Threads has more than 175 million monthly users — fewer than its rival, but quickly gaining ground.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)
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Meta Platforms launched Threads a year ago as Mark Zuckerberg’s bid to capitalize on the struggles of Elon Musk’s X, the social network formerly known as Twitter.

Since then, the long-running feud between two of the world’s richest men has morphed into a real business rivalry — one that’s poised to accelerate as Threads gets ready to start selling ads in its feed.

In July 2023, as Twitter users panicked over Musk’s product changes at X, Meta rushed Threads to market in a surprisingly direct assault on its longtime competitor. The service, which looks almost identical to X, with likes, followers and a feed of posts based on user interactions, now has more than 175 million monthly users, up from 150 million three months ago.


That’s still smaller than X, but quickly gaining ground and significantly larger than other services such as BlueSky and Mastodon, which were also introduced in the wake of Musk’s Twitter purchase. Threads has launched a slew of notable features, too, and it has attracted some of the celebrities, journalists and politicians who once helped distinguish Twitter as a social media hub for breaking news.

If Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has his way, Threads may soon compete with X for advertising dollars as well. X’s ad revenue was already down an estimated 45% in 2023 from two years prior after advertisers pulled back, spooked by Musk’s diminished content moderation and the billionaire’s unpredictable antics.

Threads ads would offer an alternative place for businesses to spend their marketing budgets, especially for those that are already familiar with Meta’s successful suite of ad products on Instagram and Facebook.

“I would love to do it sooner rather than later,” Mosseri, who also oversees Threads, said in an interview last month. “It’s just really a question of opportunity cost. Is that the best way to drive business versus making Instagram ads a little bit better on any given month? But it’ll happen, and hopefully sooner rather than later.”

While Mosseri said Threads plans to sell more targeted and personalized ads than X has historically offered, the move could still pose a threat to Musk’s business given how successful Meta’s advertising business has become. Meta’s $135 billion in sales last year — the vast majority from ads — was nearly 40 times X’s estimated revenue.

“Twitter is very brand-oriented advertising,” Mosseri said.

Opportunity in chaos

That Threads would survive a full year, much less amass a wide following, was far from guaranteed. While Zuckerberg has succeeded in copying many of his competitors’ strongest features — Snapchat’s Stories and TikTok’s short-form video feed, among others — Meta has failed repeatedly when building its own standalone apps from the ground up. Instagram and WhatsApp, both with well over a billion users, were acquisitions.


Threads, though, offered a unique opportunity. Shortly after Musk took over Twitter in late 2022, some of the top product executives at Meta were on a video call when the conversation turned toward Musk, eventually asking aloud: How should Meta capitalize on the chaos unfolding down the road at Twitter?

The group had been watching closely as Musk laid off half of Twitter’s staff, openly discussed bankruptcy and ran off dozens of major advertisers who were wary of what Musk’s “free speech” agenda meant for content moderation.

Twitter had a long history of problematic content, including hate speech and misinformation, and marketers were concerned that those types of posts would flourish unchecked with Musk in control. Instagram was already building a new product called Channels, which worked like a one-way private message to a user’s follower list, akin to an email blast. Channels, though, didn’t feel like enough of a competitor to Twitter.

When Zuckerberg asked the group what it would look like if Meta went “really big,” Mosseri, who had joined the call late at night during an anniversary trip to Italy, floated the idea of going after Twitter directly with a look-alike product. Zuckerberg liked the idea, and the group decided to build a new text-focused social network as quickly as possible.

“The idea was to have something launchable as quickly as possible, but not to launch it until it was ready,” Mosseri said. “Unless something wild happened over at Twitter.”

Something wild did happen. On July 1, Musk abruptly announced that Twitter would start limiting how many posts users could read each day, an effort to combat data scrapers and encourage more people to pay for his $8-per-month subscription service.


The decision led to widespread outrage from Twitter users. Mosseri, who was scheduled to take a one-month sabbatical, canceled his plans. The Threads team scrambled to get the new app out the door, and it was unveiled just four days later on July 5, one month earlier than planned. (Musk reversed the decision to limit Twitter users’ daily post access a few weeks later.)

“There should be a public conversations app with 1 billion-plus people on it,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on Threads after its launch. “Twitter has had the opportunity to do this but hasn’t nailed it. Hopefully we will.”

A political strategy

While Zuckerberg hasn’t yet nailed it, he’s come closer than anybody else. Where Meta has struggled, though, has been in its ability to clearly explain what Threads is for — ironically the same issue that Twitter grappled with for years. Because Threads looks almost identical to Twitter, it seems that most people assume they’ll have the same experience. But even though Threads was “heavily inspired” by Twitter, “we definitely wanted it to feel different,” Mosseri said in the interview. “We wanted to make it a less angry space.”

That difference in feeling appears noticeable to many users and has come with mixed reviews. “I miss twitter,” wrote one user. “This place is like facebook and twitter had a baby and the baby got twitter’s looks but facebook’s personality.”

Others are more optimistic about the change. “Threads of today is populated with millions of users who bolted Twitter in utter disgust. They don’t want that world again,” wrote Tim Fullerton, a digital marketing executive and onetime campaign staffer for former President Obama. “They want one that’s more focused on community and less on broadcasting.”

While Twitter had many flaws, it had also established an identity before Musk arrived as a home for breaking news and live, real-world updates. Threads seems prepared to move in a slightly different direction, particularly when it comes to political news — a topic that is highly engaging, but often polarizing and controversial.


Posts that include political news are still shown to a user’s followers and won’t be “downranked” or hidden, Mosseri said, but Threads won’t proactively recommend those posts to others on the service, either.

It’s a significant distinction, Mosseri said, because more than 50% of the posts that people see on Threads are recommendations from outside their network. That means it’s harder to get attention or build a following by posting political content.

“We don’t think it’s our place to amplify political news,” he said, citing examples such as abortion, the war in Gaza and the U.S. presidential election.

Mosseri is adamant that Threads is still a place for news outside politics, saying he wants the platform “to be a place where you can be up to speed on what’s happening as it’s happening.” That hasn’t always translated, though, as Threads has been slow at times to show users posts about breaking news events. For a time, it was even common for users to see posts about a breaking news event days after it was over.

Whether it’s possible for Threads to succeed as a digital town square for news more broadly, while simultaneously trying to corral political news, is still to be determined. Technology companies such as Meta and Twitter have long argued that political content makes up a small percentage of the total posts on their respective networks, but those discussions are arguably the most urgent, contentious and captivating.

Political discourse on X, for example, has been a defining feature of the service for years, capped by the fact that former President Trump used Twitter to post sometimes dozens of times per day.


While minimizing the spread of political news may make Threads a “less angry” place, Mosseri acknowledges that approach also comes at a cost.

“I think we are going to give up some of that relevance, some of that attention, some of that business,” he said. “And that’s OK.”