Meta’s Twitter-alternative, Threads, became the fastest app to reach 100 million users. It took five days. The app itself only took seven months to build, a remarkably short start-to-launch period that did not allow the few dozen engineers working on the project to build features like direct messages or key word searches. The Threads team also apparently did not think through how to moderate propaganda outlets. Russian outlets that Meta labels as state-controlled media on Facebook and Instagram do not carry similar disclosures on Threads. So far, Russia-linked outlets have been slow to take advantage of Threads’ lack of regulation. But that could change.
Our team found 31 unlabeled Threads accounts that are definitively or likely tied to Kremlin-funded media. Twenty-three of those accounts were labeled on Instagram, and 13 of them carried their blue check verification marks from Instagram to Threads. Altogether, the 31 accounts have nearly 400,000 followers. That is only 5% of the 8 million followers that these same accounts have accumulated on Instagram.
RT Arabic and RT’s Threads accounts on August 1, 2023.
However, Russian propagandists gained those hundreds of thousands of Threads followers in less than a month, and with very little effort. RT Arabic’s 103,000 followers make it the largest Kremlin state-controlled media account on Threads. But RT Arabic is not particularly active on the platform. At the time of writing, the account had posted only around a dozen times in the past week. On Facebook, it had posted more than a dozen times in the past hour. RT en Español and RT are, respectively, the second and third most followed Russian accounts on Threads. Neither of them posts to Threads frequently. RT en Español has posted twice in the past week, and RT hasn’t posted anything in three weeks. Overall, 17 of the 31 state-controlled accounts that we found had not posted within the 24 hours before our survey.
Threads does not have a Russian propaganda problem yet, but its lack of labelling and transparent policies around Kremlin-linked accounts could set it up to have that problem in the future. And unlike Meta’s other properties, which were initially and perhaps understandably caught off-guard by the ways in which state-controlled actors abused their services, Threads has no excuse to not be prepared. The time to apply labels and enforce existing policies is now, not after audiences are built or problems appear. Meta has already thought through the challenges of addressing state-controlled media; at the very least, it should apply the same standards on Threads as it does on Facebook and Instagram.