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Twitter threatens to sue Instagram parent over Threads app

A sign attached to Twitter's global headquarters is viewed from a sidewalk on Market Street in San Francisco, California. June 18, 2014. (Photo: Matthew Keys/The Desk/Creative Commons)
A sign attached to Twitter’s global headquarters is viewed from a sidewalk on Market Street in San Francisco, California. June 18, 2014. (Photo: Matthew Keys/The Desk/Creative Commons)

An attorney representing social media service Twitter has sent a letter to his counterparts at Meta Platforms threatening to sue the company after it launched a new app this week.

The app, called Threads, leverages technology from Meta’s photo and video sharing service Instagram and incorporates features like short text posts, reposts, likes and follows that are also found on Twitter.

Threads launched in over 100 countries on Wednesday and quickly amassed tens of millions of users, according to information released by Meta. On Thursday, Twitter’s legal representative Alex Spiro sent a letter to Meta accusing the company of stealing employees and trade secrets in connection with the new app.

The letter says Twitter “intends to strictly enforce its intellectual property rights,” strongly suggesting Twitter may file a lawsuit against Meta at some point in the near future. The note asks Meta to preserve all records related to Threads, which further points to a possible civil action.

A spokesperson for Meta denied Twitter’s claims, saying it did not employ former workers from the rival social platform and did not rely on trade secrets to build Threads.

“That’s just not a thing,” the spokesperson said.

It is not the first time Meta and its subsidiary services, which include Facebook and Instagram, have been accused of copying and incorporating features from rival platforms. Three years ago, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked to testify before federal lawmakers on the matter, which led to numerous records being made public that revealed some of Meta’s strong-arm tactics.

Among other things, the documents showed that Meta, which was then incorporated as Facebook, would simply replicate features that were popular with users on upstart platforms if it couldn’t acquire the companies behind those services.

The tactic apparently worked when Facebook negotiated an acquisition for Instagram, which is now powering the Threads app. Records revealed during the antitrust hearing showed conversations between Zuckerberg and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom in which the former accused to launch a new product called Facebook Camera that would compete directly with Instagram.

Lawmakers believe Facebook uses its massive scale to send a message to would-be competitors: Join us, or we will crush you. That was apparently the message received by Systrom and others at Instagram, who ultimately sold the app to Facebook for $1 billion in early 2012.

Systrom and others at Instagram may have had more leverage than they were led to believe. In a series of emails sent before the deal was finalized, Zuckerberg wrote that “Instagram can hurt us meaningfully without becoming a huge business” by drawing users away from the social platform at a time when more people were using smartphones to share photos and videos with their friends.

Some competitors have still rebuffed acquisition offers from Meta — including the co-founders of Twitter, who famously turned down a $100 million offer made more than a decade ago. Others, like Foursquare, have done the same; Facebook simply incorporate key features found on Foursquare, including “check-ins” and business reviews, in forthcoming versions of its platform.

Facebook and Zuckerberg don’t forget the people who turned them down. Several months after acquiring Instagram, Facebook removed a feature that allowed Twitter users to share full-size previews of Instagram photos to their followers. Systrom, who continued to work for Instagram after Facebook bought the platform, said the move was intended to drive more traffic to Instagram.

When it comes to Threads, Meta appears to be trying to capitalize on Twitter’s recent misfortunes since the latter was acquired by tech mogul Elon Musk for $44 billion last October. Since that deal, Twitter has experienced numerous service disruptions, security issues and policy changes that have rubbed ordinary and power users the wrong way. Many have left for competing platforms like Bluesky, Post News and the various servers powered by Mastodon, but none have been able to achieve the scale or reach of Twitter over the last few months.

Threads, though, did. In its first few hours, Zuckerberg affirmed the app had signed up more than five million users. By Thursday afternoon, that number had grown to 40 million users, according to internal documents seen by some technology reporters.

That kind of explosive growth was made possible because Meta decide to marry Threads to Instagram — users need an Instagram account if they want to participate on Threads. As of March, Instagram counted more than 2.35 billion monthly active users, making it one of the largest social media platforms in the world. Signing up for Threads is as simple as downloading the app, logging into Instagram and tapping a few buttons. Almost immediately, Threads points users to people who they are following, or who are already following them, on Instagram — which makes growing and reaching an audience pretty effortless.

Twitter has one other reason to be concerned: Brands are embracing Threads in a way that hasn’t been experienced at other Twitter alternatives. Within hours of launch, household brands like Vice, Paramount Plus, Netflix, Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Amazon’s Prime Video were “threading” content on the platform from verified accounts. As corporations embrace Threads, it could further eat into Twitter’s business, which has already slowed considerably during the Musk era.