Beware, Zuck Threads a good news story after ages

Remember what Mark Zuckerberg’s first baby, Facebook, did to the news ecosystem, politics and people's very idea of the good life

One of the best pieces of analysis of the way the world has received Threads is on Axios. Not because the outlet mentioned the usual stuff that is everywhere else too – the most rapidly downloaded app ever; 50 million sign-ups within 24 hours – but canny commentary on Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“For the first time in years, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is riding a wave of good press for going after a competitor”, said Axios.

Spot on.

One of the slides I’ve often used for the youngest of my journalism students is the need for journalists to feel the zeitgeist and then to reflect it. The slide above says it all. In 2010, Mr Zuckerberg was TIME magazine’s Person of the Year and his face – young, a little like Jesus with short curly hair, stared out at the world with the magic words “The Connector” on the cover. In 2021, a world disgusted with Facebook had Mr Zuckerberg back on the TIME cover but this time with a dialogue box across his face, asking “Delete Facebook”?

If Threads is a success, Mr Zuckerberg will be hailed as a saviour.

Saving who and what one might ask?

The Twitterati who want another Twitter (just not one owned by Elon Musk, to quote New York Times tech report Mike Isaac’s words on PBS NewsHour)?

Preserving internet chitter chatter?

Whatever, but Mr Zuckerberg was pretty smart to move quickly on the wave of fatigue lapping the Twitterverse for weeks and weeks as Mr Musk continued his erratic, dictatorial and chaotic  reign at Twitter.

Mr Zuckerberg was even smarter when he banged the drum for kindness and friendliness, posting  the following, for instance, on Threads: “We are definitely focusing on kindness and making this a friendly place”.

It’s early days but people do seem to be feeling the vibe. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted the following on Threads: “Quick, while it’s still nice here, AMA”. (For those not au fait with the abbreviation used by the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress, AMA, short for “ask me anything”, is a trendy term, especially in connection with Reddit.) Later that night, Ms Ocasio-Cortez seemed to be in a less beatific mood when she went on Twitter to report she thought her Threads “app was bricked”. She hadn’t been able to send “a long post of Queens food recommendations”, she explained, sounding narked off by the wasted effort.

Who knows but it’s worth noting that all Mark Zuckerberg’s high-minded pronouncements will not be able to render Threads as something that’s out of this world. Indeed, it will very much be part of this world, with its share of rumours, conspiracy theories, targeted dirty tricks and suchlike.

Also worth remembering what Mr Zuckerberg’s first baby – Facebook – really did to us. No other organisation in world history has had such a profound impact on the collective mindset, the news ecosystem, democracy, politics and people’s very idea of the good life. Nikhil Sonnad once explained it so well in  Quartz, I’m going to quote two paragraphs from his story:

“To Facebook, the world is not made up of individuals, but of connections between them. The billions of Facebook accounts belong not to ‘people’ but to ‘users,’ collections of data points connected to other collections of data points on a vast Social Network, to be targeted and monetized by computer programs.

There are certain things you do not in good conscience do to humans. To data, you can do whatever you like.

With Facebook, ‘life is turned into a database’, writes technologist Jaron Lanier in his 2010 book You Are Not a Gadget. Silicon Valley culture has come to accept as certain, Lanier writes, that ‘all of reality, including humans, is one big information system’. This certainty, he says, gives the tech world’s most powerful people ‘a new kind of manifest destiny’. It gives them ‘a mission to accomplish’.”