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Threads' approach to news
Plus, an AI-powered “reporter” and “editor” at Sky News
Threads, Meta’s new text-based app, launched last Wednesday, and it’s off to an impressive start. Mark Zuckerberg, with increasing levels of gusto, posted (threaded?) the app’s sign-up numbers last week: 2 million in the first two hours, 30 million in the first day, and 70 million after two days.
Reflecting on the app’s early success, Zuckerberg wrote: “I've always thought there would be a town square app with 1 billion+ people. It's wild that after a few days it seems possible to people that Threads has a shot. Lots of hard work ahead though.”
But what, in the eyes of Meta, constitutes a town square? Replying to The Verge’s Alex Heath, Instagram head Adam Mosseri took a stab at explaining:
The goal is to create a public square for communities on Instagram that never really embraced Twitter and for communities on Twitter (and other platforms) that are interested in a less angry place for conversations, but not all of Twitter.
Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads - they have on Instagram as well to some extent - but we're not going to do anything to encourage those verticals.
He went on to clarify:
Politics and hard news are important, I don't want to imply otherwise. But my take is, from a platform's perspective, any incremental engagement or revenue they might drive is not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let's be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.
There are more than enough amazing communities – sports, music, fashion, beauty, entertainment, etc – to make a vibrant platform without needing to get into politics or hard news.
Given Meta’s desire to create a friendly environment (for both users and advertisers) on Threads, it’s an understandable stance – and one that’s reflected in a few early design decisions:
Threads is built on the Instagram social graph. Not only did this choice enable Instagram users to easily sign up and follow their friends; it also seeded the app with thousands of Instagram creators, most of whom are oriented toward lighter, lifestyle content. So far, these creators have created a more positive vibe on the platform.
The Threads feed is algorithmic. While the app plans to add a “Following” feed over time, the current algorithmic feed gives Threads more control over what content surfaces to users. While Mosseri said the app won’t “down-rank news or politics,” it seems likely that the app’s algorithm isn’t promoting hard news and politics content either.
Threads is emphasizing user controls. The app’s launch post underscored that users can filter replies by keyword and “unfollow, block, restrict or report” other profiles. Threads will also be governed by the existing Instagram Community Guidelines.
If the Threads team has their way, these decisions will help create a platform that fosters a very different dynamic than Twitter, despite the similar format.
It’s worth noting Mosseri’s careful, repeated use of the phrase “politics and hard news.” It suggests that there’s likely room for “news” broadly defined to play an important role on the platform – particularly in cultural verticals such as sports, fashion, and music. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine Threads realizing its long-term “public square” vision without this dynamic at play.
For publishers, Threads is the rare platform with immediate scale, and many outlets have already started experimenting. If new users continue to join (seems likely) and existing users retain (a big if), Threads would become an important new distribution channel, particularly for lifestyle publishers.
Luckily, it takes only a quick copy/paste to post to both Twitter and Threads – so publishers & journalists will be able to quickly learn what’s resonating where.
Here’s today’s case study:
As an experiment, Sky News created an AI-powered “reporter” and “editor.” Here’s how it worked:
The project started with one producer recording herself in front of a green screen to capture her voice, personality, and likeness.
Using the recording and current news stories as inputs, the Sky News team, along with help from a company called HeyGen, leveraged ChatGPT and other software to develop both an AI editor and reporter.
The AI reporter developed eight story pitches, including one that suggested that pouring milk on local streets would make them safer… The AIs then selected one of the pitches, which centered on how heat waves impact public health.
The AI reporter researched the topic, composed a script, and created a video using stock imagery. It also wrote a feature-length story on the subject.
Overall, the AI performed several tasks remarkably well, and the Sky News team thinks it could help free up human reporters for more interviews and in-depth work. But it was a long way from producing a high-quality, accurate story all by itself. According to an editor who worked on the project, “I can only imagine the withering reaction from my real-life editor if I filed this back to them at Sky News HQ… For now, I can breathe a sigh of relief…and know that my job is currently secure.”
And here’s the latest news in digital media:
Publishers objected to the FTC’s “click to cancel” proposal. In a comment submitted to the commission, the trade group News/Media Alliance pushed back on the idea that easier subscription cancellation processes would be a meaningful consumer benefit, writing that: “The use of automatic renewals for newspaper and magazine subscriptions does not result in pervasive complaints and dissatisfied consumers.”
Several foundations are considering a big investment in local news. The Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and others have been discussing a coordinated effort to support local news, with a rumored $500 million on the table.
More on publishers:
NYT sports staff sent a letter to Times leadership over concerns the paper’s sports section could be merged with The Athletic.
Alden Global Capital’s local newspaper company, MediaNews Group, shut down the comments sections across its digital properties.
Several Canadian publishers suspended advertising on Meta’s platforms after the company said it would remove news content from Facebook and Instagram.
More on platforms & tech:
OpenAI is making GPT-4 generally available to developers via its API later this month.
VCs in the US invested around $40 billion in Q2, down about 50% YOY.
Bluesky crossed one million downloads across iOS and Android.
YouTube is testing the ability to add hyperlinks in its comments section.
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