Is the Future of Twitter Hanging by Threads?

From a New York Times Insider column by Josh Ocampo headlined “Is the Future of Twitter Hanging by Threads?

Ryan Mac, a technology reporter who covers Twitter for The New York Times, is used to changing his plans at a moment’s notice.

This month, when he received a message from a colleague that said Twitter was suing a law firm for $90 million, for example, Mr. Mac excused himself from this interview and called a colleague to brainstorm how to cover the breaking news.

“I always have to have my phone on me,” he said in a follow-up conversation about five minutes later. “In my job, there is no rest.”

Mr. Mac has had his hands full since Elon Musk, the eccentric billionaire, acquired Twitter in October 2022. In recent months, Mr. Mac has reported on Twitter’s steep plunge in ad sales, mass layoffs at the company, service outages on the platform and policy changes surrounding its verification of users’ accounts, or the so-called blue-check apocalypse.

Earlier this month, when Instagram released Threads, the latest big competitor in the microblogging world, it seemed like yet another element contributing to Twitter’s tailspin.

Below, Mr. Mac shared the challenges of covering a company in flux and how he combats social media fatigue.

With the debut of Threads, what’s top of mind for you?

It’s certainly a big moment in social media. Right now, people are worried about Twitter; they’re searching for a new platform. As a reporter who writes about and uses social media every day, I’m fatigued and wary of alternatives to Twitter, like Bluesky and Mastodon. Threads is getting written about a lot and people are flocking to it, but it’s also owned by a multibillion-dollar company. Maybe I’m jaded.

As someone who covers social media, how do you combat that fatigue?

I got banned from Twitter earlier this year by Elon Musk; I had to take a break for three months. I did use Instagram quite a bit during that time, so I wasn’t completely off social media. But it’s hard to take any breaks from social media when there’s breaking news.

I was having a barbecue earlier this month, for example, and tried to stay off social media. Then Elon Musk tweeted that he was making changes to the platform and limiting the number of posts users can read. I’m on the grill, flipping burgers and ribs, trying to follow the news.

How did you get banned from Twitter?

Early on in his acquisition, Elon had said that he stood for free speech and would allow a Twitter account that tracks his private plane to stay on the platform. He decided one day that this account should no longer be on the platform; he said it was a risk to his security, and he banned it.

On its Twitter account, Mastodon broadcast that Elon banned the plane account but that you can find the account on Mastodon. Then Mastodon got banned on Twitter. Reporters, myself included, started reporting this news. I tweeted out screenshots of the last tweet that Mastodon posted. Then I got banned.

As a reporter, you don’t ever want to be the center of the story. But it was such a weird confluence of events that showed how some decisions at Twitter are made on the fly; Twitter said that my tweet was a violation of the company’s terms of service. Eventually, my account was reinstated.

What’s your impression of Threads so far? Do you consider it a competitor to Twitter?

The number of people signing up is insane. In some ways, it’s not organic because people are coming to an app where they almost have a shadow presence. They must have Instagram accounts to sign up. Essentially, Threads is just knocking down a wall and starting a new platform with accounts that already exist.

But the first day of a new app is like starting at a new school. Everyone is thinking, what is going on here? It’s hard to determine what the app is intended for. Will it be for news, influencers or utility? It’s too early to tell. But objectively, it is impressive that they’ve been able to get so many people to use it.

Are we entering a new era of social media, or are these just apps lining up to replace Twitter?

Mark Zuckerberg is pretty clear that he’s just copying Twitter. Threads isn’t an innovative, new platform with virtual reality and bells and whistles.

All of these platforms just want to replace Twitter, a place people used to enjoy and love. Threads is trying to replicate that feeling.

When Inside the Times interviewed you previously, you said that the biggest challenge of covering Twitter was sifting through internal company rumors. What’s the biggest challenge now?

Finding people who want to talk. There have been so many people that have left the company. My reporting involves building relationships with people inside a company. It takes a lot of time and trust. It’s not so easy now, given that most of the employees who remain at Twitter believe in the mission or are fearful of losing their jobs.

With 75 percent of the company gone, it’s harder to find people who want to talk. I value my sources very highly; I do everything to protect them. I just have to do the whole process of building trust over again and find someone new. That can be daunting.

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