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For most people around the world, Meta’s text-based social network Threads is a platform that they haven’t thought of for months. But for Liu, a design professional in Taipei, it’s where she’s receiving unprecedented attention. 

“My casual posts often receive a large number of reposts now. It used to only happen every few months on Twitter, but it’s happening every few weeks or even days on Threads,” says Liu, who has used Twitter (now renamed X) for more than eight years and has posted on Threads since January. She asked MIT Technology Review to use only her last name for privacy reasons.

She’s not the only person feeling this surge of popularity. While most users left Threads soon after its launch and meteoric rise in July 2023, in Taiwan people have recently started to come back to the platform. There, Threads has dominated app-store download charts for months. Prominent officials have set up accounts, and it’s become the most popular platform among young people.

Even Meta has noticed the pickup in interest. In early March, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, shared in an “ask me anything”–style story that “[Threads] is doing really well in a variety of countries, exceptionally well in Taiwan of all places, which has been fun to see.” A Meta spokesperson confirms that Mosseri has publicly spoken about the trend but declined to offer more data on the platform’s growth in Taiwan.

Users and observers point to a few factors that contributed to Threads’ unexpected success on the island, including the fact that Twitter never became truly mainstream for Taiwanese people. Threads has managed to meet the demand for open discussion when Meta’s other platforms, like Facebook, are losing their appeal. Taiwan’s presidential election in January also brought in a significant number of new accounts and a lively discussion of politics and social issues.

As a result, many people in Taiwan are joining Threads and using it daily. Liu spends less than an hour on average every day on the app, where she writes down whatever’s on her mind. Originally, her friends were real-life acquaintances connected through Instagram, but she’s increasingly making new friends on the platform now. 

“I’m an ordinary, introverted person … I feel so surprised and honored for the high level of attention I receive [on Threads]. This has never happened on any other platform,” she says.

The elections gave Threads a second chance

Threads was introduced to the world as Meta’s answer to Twitter after the latter was infamously acquired by Elon Musk, prompting many long-term users to look for alternatives. But in Taiwan, unlike most other places that began experimenting with Threads, people had never really adopted Twitter in the first place. “According to numerous surveys, at most 1% to 5% of Taiwanese people use Twitter regularly,” Austin Wang, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said in an email. 

There were a few exceptions. “I use [Twitter] first because the K-pop circles use it to save images of their idols, and secondly because LGBT communities (especially gay men) use it as a subculture social platform to meet new people,” says Sebastian Huang, a college student in Taipei. 

Outside these niche groups, though, Threads had a fresh chance to win Taiwanese users over. “In my observation, [Threads] popularized Twitter’s socialization logic and pushed it toward the mainstream communities,” Huang says.

Still, Threads’ popularity plummeted after its launch in July 2023. In Taiwan—like the rest of the world—many users left the platform after satisfying their initial curiosity. 

But the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election gave it another chance. Wang, who studies social media in Taiwan, traced the platform’s second rise to November of last year, starting with the supporters of Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), often associated with the color green. “Many (worried) pan-green supporters noticed that their complaints on politics were promoted to more readers on Threads than any other social media platforms (especially Facebook and Instagram), so more and more pan-green supporters gathered to Threads and used it as a mobilization tool,” he says.

The election concluded in mid-January, with DPP candidate Lai Ching-te elected as Taiwan’s president. Many supporters of his party stayed on the platform. And as it became influential, other political figures also reactivated their Threads accounts and started posting regularly, trying to join the conversation. Everyday users who are less interested in politics came along too.

On almost every day of the past three months, Threads has been the most downloaded social network app in both Apple’s and Android’s app stores in Taiwan, according to Sensor Tower, an app store intelligence firm. It surpassed both Western social platforms and those popular in China. 

What does Taiwan Threads look like?

Wang, who has been actively posting on Threads and accumulated over 3,000 followers, observes that there are two major demographics among Taiwan’s Threads users today: the pro-green voters, and younger students who are still in middle school and high school. “In recent weeks, there is a considerable amount of discussion on how to choose colleges, majors, and even high schools,” he says.

Since Threads doesn’t have an official name in Chinese, Taiwanese users have tried to translate it in creative ways. Some stay close to the meaning and call it 串 or chuan, which means a string of beads or other objects (it could also mean a kebab skewer). Others call it 脆 or cui, which means crispy or fragile. It’s a transliteration attempt that many feel is too far-fetched, but since there’s no sound like “th” in Mandarin, it’s the best alternative, and it has already caught on among the users and surpassed other names. 

What defines the content on Threads is a mix of political and lifestyle posts. On the one hand, some of the most influential accounts are Taiwanese politicians at all levels, including the presidential candidates. On the other, Threads users have embraced a type of content called 廢文—a cross between trash talk and light-stakes monologue. 

As a result, to gain a following on Threads, the best practice is to mix up the serious and the unserious. One local representative candidate became unexpectedly famous when people discovered that his son was physically attractive. Joking about how this son’s virality has eclipsed his own, the politician now calls himself “The father of the son of Phoenix Cheng” on Threads, where he has over 268,000 followers.

“People like Phoenix Cheng like to post 廢文—talking about private matters in a humorous way. It shows you an unusual side of them,” says Jung-Chin Shen, a professor of international business at Fu Jen Catholic University in New Taipei City. 

Taiwanese politicians typically put their serious policy messaging on Facebook, but it’s not wise for them to approach Threads in the same way. “If I have followed your Facebook accounts already, why would I want to read the same thing on another platform for a second time?” Shen says. “Official, serious debates and political messaging can’t appeal to Threads users anymore.”

A delicate balance on political content

The success of Threads in Taiwan shows that politics is still one of the main reasons people come to a text-based social network, but it also highlights Meta’s uncomfortable relationship with political content on its platforms.

Before the emergence of Threads, these discussions happened mostly on Facebook and Twitter, but the prevalence of bots, misinformation, disinformation, and spam content drove people to find new alternatives.

Liu, who joined Threads in January because of the election-related content, says talking about politically sensitive topics on other social platforms could often result in being shadowbanned or even suspended. Threads, with its minimal political moderation efforts so far, appeals to those looking for a place to discuss politics freely. 

“Taiwanese people gather on Threads because of the freedom to talk about politics [here],” she says.

In turn, these political discussions have made the platform popular, at least for now. “The presidential elections in Taiwan have high mobilization and receive a high level of discussion on social media,” says Shen. “Other than in times like this, it’s rare to have a lot of people migrate to a new platform in a short amount of time.”

For Threads, Taiwan presents both an opportunity and a challenge to its current content policies. The blending of politics and lighthearted content has been a successful example for the platform, which was pitched from the very beginning as a less political, less serious alternative to Twitter. But it may want to deemphasize politics even more. In February, the month after Taiwan’s election results, Meta confirmed its position that Instagram and Threads “won’t proactively recommend content about politics.” Such material will be hidden in some recommendation features by default, and the reach of users talking about politics will be severely restricted.

“As with all our products, we take safety seriously, and we enforce Instagram’s Community Guidelines on content and interactions in Threads,” a Meta spokesperson said in response to MIT Technology Review’s emailed questions. The company’s third-party fact-checking partners “will soon be able to review and rate false content that originates on Threads,” she says. The company didn’t answer questions about where it draws the line between political and nonpolitical content when it comes to content recommendation. 

Those who came for the political content are pretty pessimistic about the future of Threads if it carries out this change. “For Threads to depoliticize would be shooting itself in the foot,” Liu says.

Even users who are on Threads for different reasons don’t necessarily think the platform should take a blanket approach. Huang, the college student, says he’s not a political person and doesn’t want to talk about politics all the time. He registered his Threads account anonymously, intentionally separating it from his real-life acquaintances. In fact, he mutes anyone who talks about politics on his Threads timeline.

“But I also feel like it’s not the best solution to straight-up restrict [political content],” he says. “It’s better if users can control it by themselves.”

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