Jonathan Seidler is an Australian author, father and nu-metal apologist. You may have read his memoir, caught his compelling live performance at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, or noticed his distinct eyebrows on the street. He has some interesting things to say about music, fatherhood, Aussie culture, mental health and the social gymnastics of group chats. This is his column for Esquire.

Unless you’ve spent the past week on a silent meditation retreat (it happens to the best of us), you’ve probably heard about this thing called Threads. Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that Meta had rushed forward the launch of its newest social media platform, a microblogging service that looks a lot like Twitter. You could say it’s the moral and digital equivalent of me writing a book called No Sea For Old Men while claiming I’d never heard of Hemmingway or McCarthy. And it’s already being embraced by celebs and plebs alike with the rapture of discount hounds on Boxing Day morning. Threads surpassed 30 million sign ups in less than 24 hours, and 100 million sign ups within a week of its launch. 

Threads comes off the back of Meta’s head honcho, Mark Zuckerberg, apparently challenging Elon Musk to a cage fight for some unknown reason, in a sterling indication of toxic masculinity’s current rude health. Not convinced? Just yesterday, Elon Musk actually challenged Zuck to “a literal dick measuring contest.”

Yep, we’re in good hands.

The background here is that Musk has put Twitter, which he recently bought for far too many billions, into a death spiral from which it seems unlikely to recover, meaning the interoperable internet is currently ripe for disruption. Hence, the good folk at Zuck Inc. have decided to syphon Twitter’s active user base without falling foul of increasingly tough antitrust laws in tech, without having to actually buy anything. 

The would-be Dr Evils over at 1 Hacker Way have form when it comes to replicating key features of successful tech platforms without paying — did anybody ever believe Reels wasn’t a poor man’s TikTok? — but Threads might be the first time Meta has brazenly tried to steal the whole lot. It’s the soundtrack to two obscenely rich guys running out of ideas and a brilliant lesson in post-modern capitalism: Why innovate and create something entirely new when you can appropriate? Why fix when you can fight?   

I’ve used Threads for a few days because I am a sucker for punishment. Everyone’s out there being like ‘hello new world!’ and trying to find ways to break the feed while simultaneously declaring it the future. It’s a bit like that time Smithers got excited by a variant of the Malibu Stacey toy just because she had a new hat.  

While Threads might be slicker and less problematic than Twitter — Meta has a reputation for better moderation — it also replaces various competing tech platforms with one. Tech homogeneity has become so pernicious that we often forget that when we’re posting on Instagram, or sending memes on Whatsapp, we’re still sending highly valuable data back to the same corporation. 

Let’s put it another way: when I’m writing, sometimes I use a pen and paper. Other times, an idea strikes me while I’m on the move and I type it into the notes of my phone. If  I need to bang something out in a hurry, I go straight for my laptop. These are three different mediums that serve the same express purpose; to yank ideas out of my noggin and get them down onto some form of page.

Consolidating these would be incredibly easy; phones are now so powerful that I could use mine for all the scenarios listed above. Lord knows it would save me time transcribing my lopsided, left-handed scrawl. But that’s not the point. The separation of them is.  

Twitter, when it works, is glorious. It is its own ecosystem and language. There are jokes and tropes on Twitter that only other people on Twitter understand, as much as we also understand that it’s a casual meeting place for some of the most despicable trolls on the planet. Both of these things are true, but also, neither of these things are owned by Meta.  

“When I want discourse on the future of AI, to furiously debate politics, or follow a climate emergency, I go to Twitter. When I want to hate-watch my friends gallivanting around Positano, I head to Instagram.”

In its infancy, Threads is already proving to be a feeder for Instagram and vice versa. While Meta has used “sharing text updates and joining public conversations” as a selling point for Threads, there are no hashtags on the platform, which means people are more liable to crowd around personalities, as opposed to ideas or breaking news. If there is an Arab Spring on Threads, it will probably be from influencers spruiking flights to Dubai during September. When I want discourse on the future of AI, to furiously debate politics, follow a live terrorist attack or climate emergency, I go to Twitter. When I want to hate-watch my friends gallivanting around Positano, I head to Instagram. Having spent a few days experimenting with Threads, I can’t say I’m confident my behaviour will change. 

Time may prove me wrong. The sharpest minds may migrate to Threads the way they’ve threatened to with the likes of Mastodon — albeit with limited success. Certainly the Meta-verse brings a robust back-end and a readymade pool of people we already know, eliminating the ‘alone in the wilderness’ issue of other self-proclaimed Twitter annihilators. But this doesn’t change the central conundrum, which is that Meta may have lost you when you left Facebook, but they’ve again found another way to lure you back in.

Teeming with putrid Proud Boys, bigots, racists and incels, Twitter has been infamously unmarketable to advertisers. Meta promises to vet these personalities from Threads, but as with all new platforms that come up against the riptides of the Internet, it’s unlikely to be totally effective. By the time we realise that, there may be no pen and paper platforms left. 

Let’s be honest, Zuck was never going to get into that cage. Dude’s already won.

Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week. You can see Jonno’s previous columns for Esquire here.