Classroom Technology

What Is Threads? Here’s What Educators Think About the Newest Twitter Alternative

By Lauraine Langreo — July 13, 2023 6 min read
This photo, taken in New York on July 6, 2023, shows Meta's new app Threads. Meta unveiled the app to rival Twitter, targeting users looking for an alternative to the social media platform owned — and frequently changed — by Elon Musk.
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There’s a new app on the block, and educators are eyeing it: Threads, a text-based social media app from Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.

Since it launched on July 5, Threads has already surpassed more than 100 million users, reaching the milestone faster than OpenAI’s ChatGPT app.

Threads is the newest competitor to Twitter, which some educators say has been on a “down slope” in recent months. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk took over Twitter in late October and promised big changes that he said would bolster free speech on the platform. Instead, critics contend that Musk has “broken” Twitter, saying it’s no longer the place everyone goes when anything big happens.

Many educators have been looking for Twitter alternatives to build professional learning networks and connect with other educators. A handful of alternatives, such as Mastodon and BlueSky, have cropped up in recent months, but none of them has completely taken over Twitter’s reign, educators said.

Seventy percent of educators say their use of Twitter remains unchanged since Musk’s takeover, according to a survey of 1,058 teachers, principals, and district leaders conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in January and February. About a quarter (23 percent) say their use of the platform has declined, while 6 percent say it has increased.

Though it might be too early to tell whether Threads will change educators’ use of Twitter, more than 900 educators have already signed up for the new app as of July 13, according to a Threads post collecting educators’ usernames to share with peers.

I have had some of the best discussions in the last few days with educators that I’ve never met before.

“One of my first goals was just to figure out how to find my people, how to find other educators on the app,” said Eric Curts, a technology-integration specialist for the Stark-Portage Area Computer Consortium, which serves school districts in northeast Ohio. It was difficult to search for other educators on the platform, so he created a Google Form for educators to capture their Threads’ usernames, and he’s been sharing those in Threads’ posts so educators can connect with each other.

How educators are using Threads

The platform looks a lot like Twitter, with a feed of largely text-based posts, though users can also post photos and videos. It was built by the Instagram team, so a person’s Threads account is connected to their Instagram account—meaning if someone wants to create a Threads account, they’ll have to create an Instagram account first. It also means that a Threads account can only be deleted by deleting the Instagram account, too, but users are able to temporarily deactivate their Threads profile.

Because Threads is still so new, it lacks many features that educators like about Twitter, such as direct messaging, hashtags, searching by keyword, a desktop version, a chronological feed of accounts they follow, and alternative text for photos and videos so it’s accessible to people using screen readers.

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But many educators who are using the app—they call themselves “Threaducators”—are doing what they can to connect with each other even without those features.

So far, Curts said Threads has been a “very valuable experience. I have had some of the best discussions in the last few days with educators that I’ve never met before.”

For instance, one educator started a discussion about how to empower educators in the age of artificial intelligence, and Curts said he’s been “inspired,” and he feels like he’s “really connecting and getting ideas that I wouldn’t come across normally, hearing from people that I wouldn’t connect with otherwise.”

“Reminds me of the golden days of Twitter,” he added.

But not everyone was quick to join Meta’s newest social media app. Education Week polled its Instagram followers, and out of 73 respondents, 66 said they don’t plan to use Threads for their jobs. Most of the commenters on Education Week’s Facebook post asking if educators are planning to use Threads also said they don’t plan to use it.

“My job is to teach and inspire kids and keep them safe and really do the same for my colleagues,” said Topher Mueller, the director of academic and assistive technologies for Chartwell School in Seaside, Calif., in a comment on Education Week’s Facebook post. “I’d be well outside the mark if I thought Threads was useful for that.”

Mueller said in an email interview that he did download the app but he doesn’t see any value in it right now, with the app still in its infancy.

“I don’t feel compelled to connect with educators on Threads,” Mueller said. “Right now, it seems like you can only connect with people individually; there are no groups or tags to follow. For most people like me, it’s like shouting into a void.”

Some are raising data-privacy concerns

Privacy experts are concerned about how much information the app collects. Threads collects user information, such as location, contacts, search history, browsing history, contact information, and more, according to the Apple App Store, which lists what data each app in the store collects.

“Users should keep in mind that, as for any Meta-created app, privacy and data-sharing concerns are high,” said Laura Ordoñez, the head of digital content and curation for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that promotes the development of digital and media-literacy skills. “Threads’ data collection is more significant than that of Twitter, including but not limited to search history, contact information, and financial information.”

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Two diverse educators with laptops sitting on an oversize cellphone with communication symbols and text bubbles on the phone and in the air around them.
Gina Tomko/Education Week and DigitalVision Vectors

There are no ads on the platform yet, which educators are enjoying, but they know that they will come eventually, and so will the related data privacy concerns that come with targeted advertising on social media. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the goal is to get Threads on a “clear path to 1 billion people” before figuring out monetization.

Educators who are using the app said they’re aware of the privacy concerns, but some said that because they already have Facebook and Instagram accounts, they don’t feel any more exposed than they already are.

There are also concerns about whether Threads will run into the same problems with spam, harassment, conspiracy theories, and misinformation that Twitter ran into. But right now, the discussions on Threads are positive, and everyone is “very friendly and wholesome,” said Bonnie Chelette, the director of educational technology for the Louisiana education department, in an interview. “It’s like the first day of school.”

Will educators replace Twitter with Threads?

For many educators, social media is an invaluable way to connect with peers and build professional learning networks. They use social media to get ideas about curriculum, pedagogy, assessments, feedback, and support.

“The explosion on Threads is showing how hungry educators are for a place to connect that they feel is going to be supportive for them and is going to be something reliable and [where] they’re going to find good conversations,” said Curts, the technology specialist who created the form to collect educators’ usernames.

Twitter used to be that space for educators, but Threads seems like a formidable competitor, according to educators. For the most part, many educators are still using their Twitter accounts even though they signed up for Threads. They’re waiting until the dust settles to figure out which one wins out.

“I think educators gravitate to other educators, and we’re gonna find a place wherever it works for us to be,” said Katie Fielding, a STEM coach in the Prince William County schools in Virginia, in an interview.

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