Threads is giving Taiwanese users a safe space to talk about politics

1 week ago 39

This story first appeared in China Report, MIT Technology Review’s newsletter about technology in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.

Like most reporters, I have accounts on every social media platform you can think of. But for the longest time, I was not on Threads, the rival to X (formerly Twitter) released by Meta last year. The way it has to be tied to your Instagram account didn’t sit well with me, and as its popularity dwindled, I felt maybe it was not necessary to use it.

But I finally joined Threads last week after I discovered that the app has unexpectedly blown up among Taiwanese users. For months, Threads has been the most downloaded app in Taiwan, as users flock to the platform to talk about politics and more. I talked to academics and Taiwanese Threads users about why the Meta-owned platform got a redemption arc in Taiwan this year. You can read what I discovered here.

I first noticed the trend on Instagram, which occasionally shows you a few trending Threads posts to try to entice you to join. After seeing them a few times, I realized there was a pattern: most of these were written by Taiwanese people talking about Taiwan.

That was a rare experience for me, since I come from China and write primarily about China. Social media algorithms have always shown me accounts similar to mine. Although people from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan all write in Chinese, the characters we use and the expressions we choose are quite different, making it easy to spot your own people. And on most platforms that are truly global, the conversations in Chinese are mostly dominated by people in or from mainland China, since its population far outnumbers the rest. 

As I dug into the phenomenon, it soon turned out that Threads’ popularity has been surging at an unparalleled pace in Taiwan. Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, publicly acknowledged that Threads has been doing “exceptionally well in Taiwan, of all places.” Data from Sensor Tower, a market intelligence firm, shows that Threads has been the most downloaded social network app on iPhone and Android in Taiwan almost every single day of 2024. On the p...

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