Our Best Stuff From the Week We Got New Threads

The U.S. Supreme Court is pictured on June 30, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Hello. I hope you had a great Fourth of July. I went into the week thinking I might have to subject you to my thoughts on the recently concluded Supreme Court term, but fortunately other events conspired to give me a topic to write about on which I’m not entirely out of my depth.

I was doing one last scroll through Twitter before closing the laptop on Wednesday night when I saw a tweet from our former colleague David French inviting folks to follow him on Threads. Threads is the latest in a long line of Twitter competitors. We’ve seen conservatives try to start social media platforms that wouldn’t “censor” them: Parler, Gettr, and of course Truth Social, founded by Donald Trump himself. There are other sites like Bluesky (started by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey) and Mastodon. None have really caught on. But Threads has an advantage the other upstarts didn’t: It’s a Meta product, tied in with Instagram. 

It appears to be an overnight sensation. Mark Zuckerberg posted (threaded?) that the site got 5 million signups in the first four hours after launch. It’s now surpassed 80 million users. (By comparison, Twitter has 450 million, but it’s been around since 2006.) I’m on Threads, and I like what I’ve seen so far. 

Saturday Night Live used to have a recurring bit on its Weekend Update segment in which a character named Stefon, played by Bill Hader, came on to talk about “New York’s hottest club.” Said club always had “everything” and everything it had was ridiculous. “This place has everything,” he once intoned. “Ice sculptures, winos, Germfs—German smurfs—a Teddy Ruxpin wearing mascara, an old lady wearing Kid ‘N Play hair, and none other than DJ Baby Bok Choy.”  Honestly, that’s a pretty good description of Twitter on an average day. 

Threads is lean by comparison. Meta has acknowledged that it launched the app a day early, but it feels like the launch was a bit earlier than that. It’s missing some features that users expect from social media sites—website functionality or a desktop app, hashtags, an option to view posts chronologically, etc. But it also seems like Zuck was seizing an opportunity. Elon Musk has, to put it mildly, made a mess of Twitter. Things reached a new low this week when he limited the number of tweets users could view before being restricted. The company claimed it was ““to address extreme levels of data scraping and system manipulation” but it seems like an odd choice for a company whose business model depends on people scrolling and seeing ads. 

Threads appeared at just the right moment. While it lacks some bells and whistles that the company says it’s working to add, it’s also—for now at least—missing a few other things: trolls, bots, and toxic discourse. Instagram boss Adam Mosseri has said the goal is to create “an open and friendly platform for conversations.”

I’m hardly a Pollyanna: I remember when Twitter was this mysterious and kinda fun new site where people posted photos of what they were having for breakfast. But that was in the infancy of the social media era. We’ve now seen the negative consequences of a poorly self-regulated platform. Anyone launching something new knows the potential pitfalls and they know what normal users are hoping to avoid.

Twitter was never the biggest social media platform, and those of us who spent a lot of time there (a kind of occupational hazard for political journalists) tried to remind ourselves that “Twitter isn’t the real world.” The average person doesn’t spend their days parsing Marjorie Taylor Greene’s latest pontifications or Elizabeth Warren’s fact-challenged polemics. But the platform has had an outsize influence. Donald Trump reached millions of people. Cable news networks could fill hours of airtime discussing whatever spats or viral trends were dominating that day. People didn’t have to be on Twitter to be influenced by it.

For publications, Twitter’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a source of traffic for our websites, it lets you know what other outlets are reporting conveniently, and it’s a great place to find writers and experts you might want to feature in your pages. But it’s also a toxic sewer. 

And so for now I’m optimistic about Threads. It’s been fun so far and people seem to be making a concerted effort to keep things friendly. 

Now, I don’t think Threads is going to save the world. But it’s easy to despair about our polarization and the terrible state of our discourse and feel like there’s no way things will get better. If you’re reading this, you probably know that improving the discourse is one of our goals at The Dispatch. But we’re just one not-yet-huge outlet. Mosseri has said that he doesn’t want news and politics to dominate Threads (and has taken flak for it), so improving our politics is not an explicit goal. But news hounds are eager for an alternative to Twitter, so it’s likely that news and politics will have their place. If—and it’s an admittedly big if—people can refrain from snark and Meta can keep the trolls and bots away, we might be taking another small step in the right direction.

Thanks for reading. Now, here’s our best stuff from the past week.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Has the Wrong Job

Kevin has a pretty simple philosophy when it comes to the role of the Supreme Court: It’s there to interpret the law. Not to solve the nation’s problems or bring about justice or advance a political law. Unfortunately, it seems that not all of the justices on the court share his view. In Wanderland (🔒), he takes apart Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dissent in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the case in which the court struck down race-based admissions. He notes that it is full of political rhetoric— “deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life,”she wrote, for example—that ignores the question before the court. He writes: “The Supreme Court’s only purpose is to rule on what is necessary or forbidden ‘in law,’ and its purpose most certainly is not to try to correct every injustice ‘in life.’ The ‘in life’ part is Congress’ business, the business of the state legislatures, the business of city councils, the business of other legislative bodies. The law says what the law says, and it is legislators who write it, not judges.” 

Patriotic Visionaries 

While we often lament the polarized nature of our current political era, it’s worth noting that it’s the severity of our differences that is the problem, not the fact we have differences. As Chris Stirewalt writes, the tension between the liberal and conservative outlooks on the world is necessary and good for a functioning democracy. “One is born of imagination and the hope of things to come, the other springs from an understanding of the fallen nature of humanity as observed through history and philosophy. One is likely to see devils everywhere and tear down the whole house to get at them, the other is insufficient when there are evils to confront. … Society needs both views in competition, and we need the same within ourselves.” But, as he wrote on Monday, the traditional conservative movement that tempers liberal overreach is homeless, to the detriment of our country. And so, on this Independence Day, he calls for liberals to put aside their aversion to overt patriotism. “Trained their whole lives in the ways of outrage at injustice, Americans on the left cringe at the idea of unqualified celebration of their deeply flawed nation. How can they wave the flag, given the injustices perpetrated under its colors? But that is the banner to which Americans of good conscience will have to rally.” 

The Joy of Anti-Trumpism

Regular readers of Boiling Frogs (🔒) know that Nick isn’t exactly optimistic about our current era. The GOP is still in thrall to a twice-impeached, twice-indicted coup-plotter, he likes to point out, and Donald Trump’s chief rival for the 2024 nomination, Ron DeSantis, is bothered less by that than that the former president is “not antagonistic enough toward gays and vaccines.” Which is why he’s at least a little grateful that Chris Christie is using his candidacy to attack Trump, and he marvels that Christie seems to be having fun in the process. “He’s not running as a matter of patriotic duty, I infer, or to assuage any guilt he might (and should) feel for having spent six years as a loathsome Trump toady. He’s running, it appears, because he immensely enjoys calling B.S. on his former friend’s corruption when none of the other top-tier candidates will. He’s having fun out there. A lot. I’ve begun to wonder if the pleasure he’s obviously taking in pressing the moral case against Trump will prove infectious to the 20 or so percent of Republican voters who say they’ve had enough.”

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • Liberals are upset with the Supreme Court for striking down affirmative action and Joe Biden’s student debt relief, but Phillip Wallach argues that the histories of both show that the real problem is that these policies are the product of the bureaucracy instead of  Congress.
  • Speaking of affirmative action, now that the court has ruled against it, activists want the Department of Education to go after legacy admissions. Oliver Rhodes explains how legacy admissions work, which schools have done away with them, and what the government might be able to do about them.
  • Sarah and Steve sat down with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger for a conversation about the importance of independent journalism, why conservatives have so little trust in the mainstream media, and Sarah’s Wordle streak. Read the transcript or listen here.
  • This week the Dispatch Politics team reported from Iowa, where Mike Pence spoke to voters about his refusal to help Donald Trump steal the 2020 election, and from New Hampshire, where Nikki Haley had a Q&A session with voters. She took questions on federal spending, immigration and other important issues.
  • Congressional Republicans are unhappy about the State Department’s report on the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haley and Harvest report in Uphill. The report was heavily redacted and was released on the Friday before the Fourth of July holiday when lawmakers were on recess. 
  • The pods! On Advisory Opinions, Sarah tours Gettysburg and talks history with Judge Judge Alan Norris of the 6th Circuit. Adam O’Neal interviews Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry of the Ethics and Public Policy Center about the recent violence in France on The Dispatch Podcast. If you’re still feeling patriotic a few days after the Fourth of July, give a listen to Jonah’s Remnant meditation on the Declaration of Independence, America as an idea, and the importance of teaching history. 
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