So now that the Threads team has established a means to limit potentially divisive political discussion in the app, it’s now rolling out a live test of Trending Topics to selected users in the U.S.
As per Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Threads team is still ironing out the details, but soon, there will be a version of Trending Topics within Threads, which it’s calling “Today’s Topics”, which will help users engage in more conversations of broad interest in the app.
According to Meta, its “timely topics” listing will be determined by AI, based on what people are engaging with in the app. There will be a level of customization, Threads says, to avoid topics that violate its Community Guidelines. But ideally, the listing will reflect key conversations, and enable others to tap through to engage with the same.
Which, really, Threads needs in some form.
While Meta is looking to take a different approach to real-time social in the app, ideally making it a more positive experience than Twitter was (and X now is), a key element in the appeal of Twitter was the capacity to tune into the discussion around any event as it happens, which is particularly beneficial for live TV show-related discussion and sports engagement.
Without facilitating more active conversation around such, Threads is not going to be able to compete with X for in-the-moment activity, while it also raises a question as to what the value of the app actually is if you can’t engage in fast-moving, as it’s happening commentary.
At the same time, Meta doesn’t want divisive political debate to take over, which is why late last week, it also announced that it’ll soon make political content opt-in by default, which will inevitably limit discussion around some of the more argument-inducing aspects.
You would expect, then, that Meta will also be looking to keep a tight leash on what makes it onto its Trending Topics listing, as another means to curate a more positive experience in the app.
Meta doesn’t specifically say that it will be interfering with its AI-recommended trends, as such, though it does note that:
“Our team of content specialists will ensure that topics do not violate our Community Guidelines or other applicable integrity guidelines, and that topics are not duplicative, nonsensical, or misleading.”
So there will be some level of “customization” of what’s trending in the app.
Which ‘freedom of speech’ advocates will try to use as a whip against Meta, and its perceived pro-censorship leanings. Meta dealt with the same criticism in 2018, in regards to trending topics on Facebook, before it removed that display. But as I noted over the weekend, really, Meta’s trying to lean into what its data shows that its users want, with Facebook and Instagram engagement increasing over the last year, as it’s actively reduced the influence of news content across both apps.
Meta’s view, based on this, as well as ongoing user feedback, is that people want less argument, and more positive content. As such, it’s less about censorship than it is about entertainment, though, inevitably, that is an accusation that Zuck and Co. will be facing, especially in an election year.
To be clear, the Threads team has said that political topics will be eligible for display in its Timely Topics list. But at the same time, by opting all users out of political content, unless they specifically change a setting, the likelihood of political topics gaining enough traction to be displayed in this list is reduced either way.
It’ll be interesting to see how Threads actually looks to roll it out, while also monitoring how it manages what’s trending over time.
And while the impetus behind its political news stance makes sense, it is also likely to impact Threads’ overall engagement growth. Again, real-time discussion is what drives engagement on X, and if Threads is looking to court the same audience, it’ll likely struggle while limiting certain elements.