Social media giant Twitter is considering taking legal action against Meta in response to the emergence of Threads, a fast-growing rival app. Executives at Meta have positioned Threads as a “friendly” alternative to Twitter, and it launched for millions of users on Wednesday. Twitter’s CEO, Elon Musk, stated, “Competition is fine; cheating is not.” However, Meta has denied allegations made in a legal letter that former Twitter employees were involved in creating Threads.
Meta says more than 30 million individuals have already signed up for the new app. However, according to Statista, this figure represents less than a tenth of Twitter’s estimated 350 million users. Notably, Threads capitalised on Meta’s existing two billion monthly users through its affiliation with Instagram.
BBC News technology reporter James Clayton observed that Threads shares a similar appearance and features with Twitter. The news feed and reposting functionalities are described as “incredibly familiar.” However, copyright laws in the United States do not protect ideas. For Twitter to succeed in a legal dispute, it must prove that its intellectual property, such as programming code, was infringed upon.
Facebook’s system for displaying the most recent posts, known as the “communication of a newsfeed,” received a patent from Meta in 2012. Meanwhile, news outlet Semafor reported that Twitter attorney Alex Spiro sent a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg accusing Meta of “systematic, willful, and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property” in the development of Threads. The letter alleges that Meta hired numerous former Twitter employees who had access to Twitter’s trade secrets and confidential information, ultimately contributing to the creation of the “copycat” Threads app.
The letter states that “Twitter intends to enforce its intellectual property rights strictly” and demands that Meta cease using Twitter trade secrets or highly confidential information. It further emphasises Twitter’s rights to seek civil remedies and injunctive relief without further notice. BBC News has contacted both Meta and Twitter for their comments.
Elon Musk responded to a tweet referencing the legal letter, stating, “Competition is fine, cheating is not.” In response to allegations of former Twitter employees being involved, Meta spokesperson Andy Stone asserted that “no one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee.”
Sarah Kunst, managing director at venture capital firm Cleo Capital, highlighted the potential for Threads to provide a “brand-safe environment” for current Instagram advertisers who may be willing to allocate some budget to explore the app’s possibilities. She also expressed her belief that while the initial rush of 30 million users may occur, there will likely be a steady increase in user numbers due to the app’s ease of cross-posting to other platforms, such as Instagram.
Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have acknowledged the rivalry surrounding Threads, an app linked to Instagram but functioning as a standalone platform. During the app’s launch in 100 countries, Zuckerberg broke his 11-year silence on Twitter to share a popular meme featuring two identical Spider-Man figures pointing at each other, symbolising a standoff. Subsequently, as the term “Threads” trended worldwide on Twitter, Musk remarked, “It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram.”
Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino tweeted on Thursday that while the platform is “often imitated,” it can never be replicated. Both Meta and Twitter have undergone significant layoffs this year, with Meta announcing a reduction of approximately 10,000 staff members in April. On the other hand, Twitter experienced waves of redundancies, resulting in a considerable loss of its 7,500 employees, potentially up to 80%, following Musk’s takeover in October of the previous year.