Twitter Star Journos ‘Cautiously’ Move Over to Threads

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero / The Daily Beast / Getty
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Threads, Meta’s almost-unabashed Twitter clone, has achieved in two days what countless other alternatives have failed: widespread adoption among celebrities, brands, and news organizations alike.

Among those who’ve joined have been scores of journalists who previously made names for themselves on Twitter and perhaps fall under all three categories. While Twitter-aping revivals including Bluesky, Mastodon, Post News, Hive Social, and Substack Notes have sputtered out of relevance, Threads has garnered an astonishing 48 million sign-ups within 24 hours, according to The Verge. Its rise has even prompted Twitter to send a cease-and-desist letter to the company, arguing Threads is predicated on Twitter’s trade secrets.

But the rise of yet another social platform vying for users disaffected by the Elon Musk version of Twitter has forced those in media who spent the past decade cultivating their own, sometimes massive followings on the now-crumbling platform to try and rebuild those audiences from scratch. It’s a tall ask—even as Threads allows users to migrate their Instagram following—leading some prominent journalists who’ve joined Threads to wonder whether it’s worth it at all.

“I’m wading through the waters with caution,” said Robert Costa, CBS News’ chief campaign correspondent (roughly 741,000 Twitter followers, 14,600 Threads followers). “I’m not here to endorse any product. I’m always looking as a professional reporter to see where people are going. Where is the conversation? How can I contribute and integrate my reporting in the conversation?”

Costa, who joined Twitter in October 2009 and has seen it through the highs and lows of Donald Trump’s administration, said he viewed Twitter as a supplement to his reported pieces, and he hopes Threads can provide the same function for his work.

“Social media has given me the opportunity to kind of pour out my notebook, have offline conversations with sources and readers and reporters,” he said.

It’s an aspect of social media that other journalists have to adopt and expand upon in order to survive in a competitive field, said Taylor Lorenz, a tech columnist for The Washington Post.

In her coverage of the content creation space, Lorenz (roughly 349,000 Twitter followers, 46,300 Threads followers) has been an early adopter of various Twitter alternatives since Musk’s acquisition of the platform last November. She said the death of Vine (ironically, a Twitter-owned app) in 2017 forced her subjects, including YouTube superstars MrBeast and Logan Paul, to learn to diversify their audiences—a lesson reporters could benefit from.

“Journalists have been so overly dependent on Twitter,” Lorenz said. “That’s been a nuke liability for them for a long time. The death of Twitter is teaching journalists that you have to diversify your audience. You have to have a way to reach your readers directly, just being a little more out there on social platforms and not putting your eggs in one basket.”

Lorenz, as have other journalists who spoke to The Daily Beast, said she does not regret the amount of time and energy she’s devoted to Twitter. The platform allowed her to engage directly with her audience, helping shape story angles and identify new sources she otherwise wouldn’t have found. But even before and during Musk’s ownership, Twitter’s standing as an online watering hole has since been diminished, she said.

“I really do feel like Twitter has sort of abdicated its role as the town square of the internet,” Lorenz said. “It’s just not that anymore, and I think we’re sort of figuring out where the next place is.”

Not every journalist has spun out their own Threads. Dave Weigel, a senior political reporter for Semafor, said he’s remained on Twitter partly to remain free from “the Mark Zuckerberg garden,” referring to Meta’s top executive.

“There’s still an audience to share pieces with,” said Weigel (roughly 577,400 Twitter followers, 0 Threads followers by lack of adoption), “and there is a rubber-necking quality which I think I appreciate more than ever.”

Weigel, who does have a Bluesky account he doesn’t frequently use, said he isn’t afraid of audiences not finding him on any platform. Journalists who produce good work, he said, will have people engage and share it regardless of the medium.

“My attitude about all social media is, just share stuff you would share anywhere,” he said. “If there’s an audience for that, people will find it, and if they’re not, it wasn’t very good.”

It remains to be seen if Threads can carry its momentum forward in the long term. Countless social-media platforms—Vine, Clubhouse, Google+—have often followed their highest peaks with an early digital grave, and the buzz surrounding Twitter’s closest competitors has largely dwindled. (Mastodon sees about 1.8 million active monthly users, down from its high of more than 2 million last year, while Bluesky—backed by ex-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—is still limited to those who manage to find an invite code.)

“Threads is the first actual, true, consumer-friendly viable alternative to Twitter,” Lorenz said. “The most important thing with any social platform is the people using it, the network. It’s really hard to build the network from scratch.”

Meta also risks alienating an audience if it leans too much on advertising, Lorenz said, instead of implementing core features such as video, search functions, and direct messaging.

Otherwise, “it’s off to a strong start,” she said.

Other Twitter star media figures, such as podcaster Molly Jong-Fast (1 million Twitter followers, 55,200 Threads followers), are just happy to have found a viable escape from Musk’s app. “I loved Twitter so much and devoted so much time to it,” she wrote in a text message, “but Elon elevated a lot of really grim right-wing content and anti-science stuff.”

Jong-Fast added that while Zuckerberg “has his own moral and ethical issues,” she appreciated Threads’ accessibility and user-friendly interface, making her ship-jumping easier.

“I do not regret writing pages and pages of free content for tech bros because it helped rebuild my career and I love many of the people I met on Twitter,” she wrote. “Social media is like it or not very very necessary.”

The app launched at a pivotal time for reporters, as the 2024 presidential cycle—and the misinformation accompanying any modern-day U.S. election—kicks into gear. Various candidates, including Republicans Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott, along with Democrats Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson, have joined Threads, but the company has not said what tools it will deploy to combat hate speech or misinformation on the platforms.

That leaves reporters who do use the platform to wait and see, cautiously pushing through the noise with their own reporting and analysis—something Costa believes audiences are still eager to find.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I know people are sometimes grim about the future of media and the future about reporting. Every time I’m in a different city in the country, people are going ‘What are you hearing? What do you know?’”

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