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The Zuckerberg-Musk rivalry continues with the launch of Meta's 'Twitter killer' app


The war between Facebook parent company Meta and Twitter is heating up. Meta has just launched an app called Threads. It's been called a Twitter killer, putting Twitter on the defensive. It's just the latest instance of a long-running rivalry between the two tech billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn joins us now. Welcome.


ESTRIN: Hey. So how is Zuckerberg's version of Twitter different?

ALLYN: Well, it kind of feels like a beta version of Twitter. You can write short updates, like people's posts and reshare them. But the whole thing is built on top of Instagram. It's a separate app, but with one click, you can import all of your friends from Instagram. The biggest difference, of course, is Elon Musk. He's trying to push Twitter users to a subscription model, and he's constantly changing the rules, as we know, often on a whim. Amid this chaos, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stepped in and launched Threads, what Meta executives are privately calling a more sane Twitter. And so far, Daniel, more than 30 million people have signed up. Here's Jasmine Enberg. She's a tech analyst at Insider Intelligence.

JASMINE ENBERG: Musk gave Zuckerberg an opening, and Zuckerberg took it. The timing is immaculate, considering all of the challenges at Twitter, particularly the rate limits on tweets that alienated some of Twitter's most loyal users.

ALLYN: Yeah. What she's referring to there is the latest Twitter hubbub over the weekend, when Musk decided to put a cap on the number of tweets people can read every day. It was roundly panned as a terrible idea and annoyed users and advertisers alike.

ESTRIN: Yeah. And the rivalry between Musk and Zuckerberg runs deeper than Twitter, right? Tell us more about that.

ALLYN: It sure does. There's been a long-running animosity between these two billionaires. In private, Zuckerberg has reportedly been envious of Musk's reputation as a risk-taking innovator, and Musk likes disparaging Zuckerberg for making so much money off what he calls not very impressive software. Now, Musk has criticized Instagram for showing off a glamorized version of life that makes people depressed. And more recently, when news started to spread about Zuckerberg launching a rival to Twitter, Musk challenged him to a cage match, and Zuckerberg agreed. So maybe one day, these two tech billionaires will be able to work out their beef by having a chance to beat each other up. We shall see.

ESTRIN: Yeah. So back to Meta's Threads app, can this really replace Twitter?

ALLYN: Yeah. You know, if any company is well-poised to sink Twitter, it is Meta. Some 3 billion people around the world are already using its services. They have some of the best social media engineers in the world. However, the appeal of Twitter is really its culture and influence. Heads of state, celebrities, business leaders make news on Twitter, and it's just frankly seen as a cooler app than Facebook and even Instagram among young people and cultural figures. Can a text version of Instagram really replace that? That's the question. I put it to analyst Enberg, and she isn't so sure.

ENBERG: Twitter, despite its small size, has really had an outsized influence on society, on culture and on politics in a way that Meta hasn't been able to replicate.

ALLYN: Yeah. Now, in response to a tweet reporting that Twitter is threatening to sue Zuckerberg over the launch of Threads, Musk wrote, quote, "competition is fine. Cheating is not."

ESTRIN: All right, then. Bobby Allyn, thanks.

ALLYN: Thanks, Daniel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.