OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Threads of hope

Brenda Looper

After last week's column about jerks, I feel the need to talk about something good on social media. Mark Zuckerberg/Meta actually did something I like.

Readers know I'm not a huge fan of a lot of social media, thanks largely to trolls, those who intentionally try to offend, attack others and disrupt conversation, often just for the "lolz," which seems a waste of time that could be better spent elsewhere.

On Twitter/X, I've made exactly one post and a handful of replies. I can go weeks without visiting, and then someone will cite a tweet in a column or letter and I have to go look it up. Usually I'll end up checking my feed, then castigate myself for doing so because the atmosphere, even on some lighthearted tweets, is toxic, with pile-ons of offensive material, attacks, and propaganda.

Digital intelligence firm SimilarWeb noted that traffic to the site has dropped 14 percent over the past year as it bleeds both users and money. Some entities like NPR stopped posting and focused on their own websites and other social media; they found that leaving had a negligible effect (about a 1 percent drop) in traffic to their sites, according to Nieman Reports. Once Elon Musk starts charging everyone for their accounts, I'll leave completely, but am staying now only to access tweets for fact-checking and the occasional big news event.

Meta's Facebook is fine and all, but is also too prone to misinformation and trolls, especially if you post most things publicly. Especially for women on the site, public posts tend to draw the scammers; they generally start off with something like, "Hello dear, Please pardon my approach by writing in your comment section," and end with them asking to add them as a friend because they tried but couldn't make the request go through.

Look, if you can't figure out how the "friend request" thing works, I can't help you.

I created an Instagram account (WhispererOfCats) last year to post pictures of cats I stalk (OK, mostly fur-nephew Charlie, currently curled up next to me as I write, but also Boo the Warehouse Cat and several cats in Charlie's neighborhood), but I've rarely posted over the past several months, and might check my account once every week.

But Threads ...

I wrote about it in July to give my impressions, which were basically: Good start, but needs a lot of work. At the time there was no Web client, so you could only access it on a mobile device, search was hit-and-miss, etc. However, interacting with people there was like a breath of fresh air.

I wrote then: "If we really need social media, I'm all for a platform that places value on authenticity and reasonableness in discussions and keeps hyperpartisan politics, trolling and deliberately provocative behavior at bay. Is it Threads? That remains to be seen."

So far, so good. A Web client was introduced in August, which makes it easier to track Threads during the day for some of us, and there is now a search feature (more refinements of that are on the way) and a following feed. More work is still needed, but that should increase its user base: The Verge reports that active monthly users for Threads are estimated to reach 23.7 million by the end of the year. That's less than the 56.1 million for Twitter/X, but the gap can easily close.

What's needed most is a way to follow breaking news. Twitter used to excel at that, but has fallen victim to too many viral misinformation tweets; when Community Notes are added to a tiny fraction of such posts and only reach a small fraction of users, often days later, it shows that fact-checking isn't exactly a priority over engagement. If Threads can get that right, it has great prospects.

For now, though, I'm most impressed with the community on Threads, which seems to have more than its share of creatives (writers, artists, photographers, musicians, artisans, comedians, actors/performers), activists (for issues spanning the spectrum), book lovers and animal lovers (heavy on the cats, but hey, highland cows and otters!). With all the gorgeous art and animals filling my feed, it's very easy to spend hours on the site/app without realizing.

For the most part, those on Threads seem thoughtful, kind, cautious (like not sharing news event videos until they have been confirmed), funny, and open--with their struggles, their losses, what drives them--which makes for the start of a great community. Sure, there are still the occasional trolls and bots that show up, but blocking them instead of responding (which boosts their reach) makes them go away. I mean, if they can't make trouble, what good are they? (And again, it's not a First Amendment violation as these platforms aren't government entities. All have a right to speak, but not to force anyone to listen.)

Users ultimately direct where a platform goes, and on Threads, there has been more of an effort to steer toward the social contract that until the last few decades kept us from acting like selfish jerks whose mamas didn't raise them right.

On Threads, I've found my people, and it feels pretty good. Being more active on social media, well, that's another story.

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.