Mark Zuckerberg’s Third Attempt to Enter Crypto-Adjacent Territory: Threads and the Illusion of Decentralization

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and leader of some of the largest platforms on the internet, has long shown a desire to be more involved in the cryptocurrency world. His latest venture, Threads, Meta’s new Twitter-like social media app, is yet another attempt to tap into the growing appeal of decentralization.

Zuckerberg’s first foray into the crypto space was with the Libra Diem payments token, which ultimately failed to gain traction. He then made the surprising decision to rename Facebook to Meta, partly inspired by blockchain-backed metaverses. This move was seen as a futile attempt to pivot towards decentralization and was met with widespread skepticism.

Threads, however, is a less ambitious project compared to Libra and the rebranding of Facebook. It is essentially a copy of an existing product, with plans to eventually integrate the same ActivityPub protocol used by the open-source Mastodon system. ActivityPub is a protocol standard recognized by the mainstream W3C body, offering features like data portability that have long been demanded by digital activists.

The backend design of Threads may have been influenced by BlueSky, Jack Dorsey’s experimental Twitter competitor, which is also building its own decentralized social media protocol called AT Protocol. Dorsey himself has been vocal about his interest in decentralized social media, dating back to his involvement in the tokenized Steemit platform. The recent popularity of Nostr, another decentralized social media standard favored by Bitcoin enthusiasts, further highlights the growing interest in this space.

Despite claims that Threads is decentralized, it is important to note that Meta will still gather user data through the front-end app. The app’s disclosures state that it collects a wide range of user data, which is crucial for Meta’s targeted-advertising business model. Additionally, Threads is yet to launch in Europe, possibly due to stricter privacy standards in the region.

Moreover, the data portability promised by Threads may not be as seamless as anticipated. Critics have often criticized similar platforms like Mastodon for being clunky and non-intuitive, making it challenging for users to migrate from one server to another. Ultimately, it will be up to Meta to develop tools that make it easy for users to leave Threads, but it remains uncertain whether this aligns with the company’s financial interests.

Furthermore, it is unlikely that Threads will become a new hub for discussions and personalities in the crypto Twitter community. Meta’s reputation for disregarding privacy concerns has fueled deep-seated animosity towards the company within crypto circles. Additionally, one analysis suggests that Threads’ audience demographic is perceived as “hot and dumb,” largely consisting of Instagram spillover. This renders it an unlikely destination for prominent figures in the digital asset industry, leaving Dr. Craig Wright, a controversial figure, as a potential lone poster.

In conclusion, Mark Zuckerberg’s latest venture, Threads, represents another attempt to capitalize on the growing interest in decentralized social media. While it may offer some elements of decentralization, the app’s data-gathering practices and the challenges of data portability raise questions about its true commitment to decentralization. Moreover, its potential to attract key players in the crypto Twitter community remains uncertain, given existing hostility towards Meta and its history with privacy concerns.