Washington, July 11 (CNN) – Twitter has weathered months, if not years, of mismanagement as well as mass layoffs, frequent service disruptions and an exodus of top advertisers, but the launch of a rival app from Meta could prove to be the final straw.
Threads surpassed 100 million users this weekend, less than a week after it launched, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Monday, marking a staggering feat for any social network and one that puts it on pace to rapidly pass Twitter’s audience size.
Meanwhile, multiple internet traffic analysts reported noticeable declines in Twitter usage in just the past few days. The results underscore the risk Meta poses to Twitter’s business and raise questions about how, or if, Twitter can stem its losses.
Twitter traffic had already been trending downward for months, according to data from the internet infrastructure company Cloudflare and the web analytics firm Similarweb. But the pace of decline appears to have accelerated in recent days, both companies said, likely reflecting strong interest in Threads and a mass migration from the platform owned by Elon Musk to the one run by Zuckerberg.
Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince shared a chart showing Twitter’s popularity relative to other websites it tracks. “Twitter traffic tanking,” Prince said as he posted the chart.
The chart showed that in January, Twitter was ranked 32nd on the list; the next month, it had fallen to 34th. For much of the spring, Twitter fluctuated between 35th place and 37th. But the beginning of July showed a rapid falloff in popularity, as Twitter plunged to 40th place. (Cloudflare defines popularity as the “size of a population of users that look up a domain per unit of time.”)
Similarweb told CNN Monday it has witnessed comparable trends in Twitter traffic.
“In the first two full days that Threads was generally available, [last] Thursday and Friday, web traffic to twitter.com was down 5% compared with the same days of the previous week and down 11% compared with July 6 and 7, 2022,” said David Carr, a senior insights manager at Similarweb. “We’ve been reporting for a while that Twitter is down compared with last year – June traffic was down 4% – but Threads seems to be taking a bigger bite out of it.”
Bolstering the traffic reports were the anecdotal experiences of some Threads users. Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, said Saturday he ran an “unscientific test” of how the same post he shared on Twitter, Threads and Mastodon, another rival, performed with his audience over a 23-hour period.
The identical content Stamos created on each platform saw significantly more engagement on Threads than on Twitter as measured by likes and replies — despite having a fraction of his usual reach on the newer platform, he said.
Stamos, who has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter but only a tenth of that number on Threads, added that strong Threads engagement with his posts describing the “research” also supported the original findings. The quality of the replies to his posts were also much higher on non-Twitter platforms, he observed.
“From my perspective, Twitter is done as a platform for serious tech conversations,” Stamos said, who previously was the chief security officer at Facebook.
A Twitter rival but not quite a Twitter replacement
Fueling Threads’ rapid growth has been Meta’s use of Instagram as a springboard to sign up new users, along with what many Threads users have identified as a dissatisfaction with Twitter.
Threads started out with a number of celebrity accounts prepopulating its platform but has since gained additional high-profile users including Kim Kardashian and Jeff Bezos. An account that had been banned from Twitter that tracks the movements of Musk’s private jet has also joined the new platform.
More than 100 US lawmakers have signed up as well, Axios reported last week, though few world leaders appear to be on Threads at the moment.
Zuckerberg and Instagram head Adam Mosseri have emphasized that Threads is about more than replacing Twitter and that the app seeks to tap audiences outside of Twitter’s traditional user base. That means Threads will not actively elevate news or political content, Mosseri said, describing those topics as “not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let’s be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.”
Over the weekend, Mosseri’s stance on news and politics triggered a debate over Threads’ approach to those topics. Some users praised it as a way to make the platform more accessible to average users, who may never have embraced Twitter before. Others argued that many of the topics Mosseri characterized as non-political, including music, fashion and entertainment, are their own source of news and can be inherently political.
Even as Meta’s executives look to put some daylight between Threads and Twitter, the rapid rise of Threads only appears to have deepened Musk’s longtime feud with Zuckerberg. The app’s launch prompted threats of litigation as Twitter has accused Meta of trade secret theft, not to mention talk of a physical cage fight between Musk and Zuckerberg.
On Sunday, Musk, who is known for erratic behavior and incendiary remarks, made it even more personal as he lobbed a sexual insult at Zuckerberg and proposed comparing the size of their respective genitalia.
Zuckerberg has not directly responded to the insult. But after a Threads user pointed out that the new app was not featured in Twitter’s trending topics tab, Zuckerberg replied “Concerning” with a crying-laughter emoji. And he used the same emoji to reply to a post by the fast-food brand Wendy’s, which had suggested Zuckerberg should “go to space just to really make him mad lol.”