Mark Zuckerberg has long wanted to dislodge Twitter and provide the central place for public conversation online. Yet Twitter has remained stubbornly irreplaceable.
That hasn’t stopped Mr. Zuckerberg.
On Monday, his company, Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, teased a new app aimed squarely at Twitter’s territory.
The app, which is called Threads and is connected to Instagram, appeared in Apple’s App Store for users to sign up to download on Thursday, when it will be released. The app appears to function much like Twitter, emphasizing public conversations, with users able to follow people they already do on Instagram. Some techies have referred to the coming app as a “Twitter killer.”
Mr. Zuckerberg is striking while Twitter undergoes fresh turmoil. Since Elon Musk bought the social platform last year, he has changed the service by tinkering with Twitter’s algorithm that decides which posts are most visible, thrown out content moderation rules that ban certain kinds of tweets and overhauled a verification process that confirms the identities of users.
Then over the weekend, Mr. Musk imposed limits on how many tweets its users would be able to read when using the app. He said the move was in response to other companies taking Twitter’s data in a process called “scraping.” Twitter’s users were soon met with messages that they had exceeded their “rate limit,” effectively making the app unusable after a short amount of time viewing posts. Many Twitter users became frustrated.
“If there’s ever been a more self-destructive owner of a multibillion-dollar enterprise who resents the very customers who determine the success of that enterprise, I am unaware of it,” Lou Paskalis, founder and chief executive of AJL Advisory, a marketing and advertising technology strategy firm, said of Mr. Musk and Twitter.
The latest turbulence at Twitter appears to have given Mr. Zuckerberg an opening for Threads.
Meta’s executives have discussed how to capitalize on the chaos at Twitter since last year, including by building a rival service. “Twitter is in crisis and Meta needs its mojo back,” one Meta employee wrote in an internal post last year, according to a report in December by The New York Times. “LET’S GO FOR THEIR BREAD AND BUTTER.”
That has resulted in Threads, a crash project spun out of Instagram and internally code-named Project 92. Users will be able to log into Threads using their Instagram account, according to photo previews of the app displayed in Apple’s App Store.
Meta executives previously characterized the app as a “sanely run” version of a public-facing social network, in a not-so-subtle jab at Mr. Musk’s erratic behavior.
Mr. Musk and Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Threads quickly gained attention online, with Jack Dorsey, one of Twitter’s founders, tweeting a screenshot of the app’s data policy and Mr. Musk responding, “Yeah.”
A Meta spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meta is launching Threads while facing its own challenges. The Silicon Valley company has been investing heavily in shifting toward the so-called metaverse, an immersive digital world. But the move has been greeted skeptically, given that the metaverse is far from mainstream.
In recent months, Mr. Zuckerberg has also cut costs at Meta and grappled with questions about whether the company is behind in the race over artificial intelligence. In an employee meeting last month, he tried to rally workers by explaining the mass layoffs last year and laying out a vision for how Meta’s work in A.I. would blend with its plans for the metaverse.
Even with those challenges, Meta remains the most credible competitor to Twitter, with deep pockets and an audience of more than three billion people who use Facebook, Instagram or its other apps. Other platforms trying to capitalize on Twitter’s weakness — such as Tumblr, Nostr, Spill, Mastodon and Bluesky — are all much smaller than Meta.
“Even though Facebook is in decline, it still has a massive user base,” said Mr. Paskalis of AJL Advisory. Its large number of users, he added, will make it more likely that its copycat apps “will achieve success at the expense of Twitter.”
Facebook and Twitter have been at odds for years in trying to capture up-to-the-minute conversation online. In Twitter’s earliest days, Mr. Zuckerberg offered to purchase the company, but was rebuffed. Before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook also made a major push to feature its live products and trending topics in political events and on television.
Since then, Mr. Zuckerberg has focused efforts such as livestreaming video — an area Twitter has also pursued — and trending hashtags to let users explore topics that have gone viral across Facebook and Instagram.
Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Musk may face off in another way: in the ring.
The two men are discussing the possibility of sparring in a mixed martial arts match, according to Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship sports franchise. Though no date has been set, the tech billionaires have expressed privately to Mr. White that they are willing to fight each other, and the contours of an event are taking shape.