Just when you thought there was nothing new left to say…. Meta is beckoning us to ‘Say More’. It is enough to make your head spin that just as we think we are getting a grasp on the raft of apps that pique the interest of children and teens, up pops another one and this one is predicted to sink Twitter. In the first 7 hours of its release Threads by Instagram had ten million users sign up. Social Media continues to evolve and our thirst for communication and connection online is increasing every day.
There is a lot of commentary around the newly released Threads being nothing more than a turf war between Meta’s Mark Zuckerburg and Twitter’s Elon Musk, who seems to be burning millions of followers at the same rate he is burning millions of dollars. But to be clear we are not fans nor haters of either businessman; our opinion and research is as always most interested in how new apps interact with the young minds we are passionate about keeping safe online.
This is not the first time we have seen Threads as it was launched in 2019 as a messaging app designed to easily connect with users ‘Close Friends’ list and share photos, videos, and messages in a private space. It was discontinued in 2021. Now fast forward to 2023, Threads by Instagram has been re-released as a text based social media app. Threads is a companion app to Instagram and will share the same handle and photo as your Instagram account, but you can customise the profile name and the photo. You must have an Instagram account to be able to set up new Threads Account. Accounts will be automatically set to private for users under the age of 16 and all users can choose whether their account is public or private. It is conversational and has a very Twitter like look and feel. Accounts that are followed on your Instagram account can be easily selected to follow on Threads and any accounts that you have blocked will also carry across to Threads.
The Apple Age Classification is 12+ but interestingly if you look at what the app could contain Apple outlines ‘Infrequent/ Mild profanity or crude humour, Infrequent/ Mild Sexual Content and Nudity, Infrequent / Mild mature/suggestive themes and Infrequent/ Mild alcohol, tobacco or drug references.’
As you cannot create a Threads account with an existing Instagram account and Instagram’s Age Requirement is Age 13+. Another trusted source of app information is Common Sense Media who, incorporating their rating and a parent & child reviewed rating, have put their Threads Age Classification at Age 14 +.
At this stage of the app’s development, it doesn’t have a direct message function which is where cyberbullying and grooming frequently occurs and there are no hashtags like Twitter or Instagram. However, it may not be too much of a stretch to assume that given Instagram has both of these functions that there is a possibility in the future.
In terms of data privacy, they aren’t tracking your user data across external apps and websites however they do through your Instagram app but the ‘Data Linked to You’ is extensive but not dissimilar to any of the major social media apps.
As with all social media apps there is a risk for bullying and harassment and if their account is public it is a much larger pool of strangers. The other thing to watch is harmful and inappropriate content as all content is user generated.
You will find because Threads is linked to your Instagram account it has all the same community guidelines as well as similar safety, privacy, and security options. Threads also has a parental controls option called ‘Supervision’ where you will be able to monitor your children’s Meta accounts. The Instagram app will open and give you instructions on how to link your child’s account to yours. Once paired you can monitor time spent and set time limits, see who they are following and who is following them and also receive notifications when they block an account. To further protect your teenagers experience you can make their account private, hide likes and particular high risk words and also modify the level of restriction on their account.
Is Threads by Instagram any greater risk to children and teenagers’ mental health and wellbeing than any other social media app? In short NO, but it is in its infancy only being launched on the 5th July. Like all social media platforms having an open dialogue, looking at age requirements, data privacy, having conversations around appropriate content to be shared and looking at what parental or user controls there are, is important to reduce the risk of being caught in unsafe online situations. It will be interesting to see its evolution but whether it lasts longer than its last launch remains to be seen.