Unveiling the Flawed Premise of Social Media Through Threads’ Declining Engagement

In a surprisingly swift turn of events, Threads, once hailed as the potential savior of social media, has begun to unravel at its seams. With an astonishing drop of 80% in daily active users since its initial surge of over 100 million users within just five days, the platform’s future appears uncertain.

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, Threads’ parent company, acknowledged the need for intervention as half of Threads’ users abandoned the platform shortly after launch. In response, the introduction of “retention hooks” was announced, an attempt to retain users who were quickly losing interest. What initially sparked celebration for its blend of humor, light-heartedness, and the cringe-worthy has now transformed into yet another illustration of the relentless cycle in which social media innovation rises to prominence and then fades away.

Since the emergence of the triumvirate of social media giants—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—in the early 2000s, these platforms have exercised dominion over both our daily lives and our cultural landscape. They have ingrained in consumers an inherent anticipation, fostering a ceaseless desire for the next big advancement in the realm of social media.

From the fleeting fame of Clubhouse to the promise of Bluesky and now the narrative of Threads, nearly every new platform has, at some point, been anointed as the harbinger of continued digital community and social connection. Yet, many have succumbed to controversies, struggles with content moderation, dwindling user engagement, and more. A mere month after its launch, Threads’ users are already grappling with platform fatigue and disillusionment.

The crux of this issue lies in the fundamental misperception that social media connectivity can replicate the satisfaction derived from genuine human connection. This miscalculation has, over the span of two decades, propelled our culture and collective well-being toward an unparalleled epidemic of loneliness—a crisis that no single platform seems capable of resolving, let alone addressing. Perhaps it’s time for a comprehensive recalibration.

In an era characterized by surging social isolation and pervasive loneliness, it might be prudent to cease treating digital connectivity as a surrogate for authentic, meaningful relationships.

The Golden Epoch of Social Media’s Beginnings
The initial stages of social media weren’t just impressive for technology investors and innovators; they captivated people across the globe with a sense of childlike wonder. These platforms beckoned us to envisage a reality in which the far reaches of the world were accessible with a mere swipe; a realm where long-lost friends could be reunited and strangers could evolve into lifelong companions; a universe where geographical distance no longer inhibited our capacity to cultivate connections.

The original missions of Facebook (“connect and share”), Twitter (“create and share”), and Instagram (“capture and share”) primarily emphasized the potential to construct a more interconnected world, an endeavor we were all encouraged to partake in.

However, in recent times, social media platforms have diverged from their initial models, chasing new revenue streams and broader audiences. This shift has resulted in platforms offering novel avenues for consumption and engagement, rather than nurturing interpersonal relationships as they once aspired to do.

Instead of fostering and preserving connections, social media channels have gravitated toward becoming a “global town square,” where communication and interaction coexist with commercial transactions through e-commerce and the propagation of information within social echo chambers. This transition was marked by Facebook’s introduction of the Marketplace feature and Instagram’s controversial Shop tab. Amid escalating societal divisions, the ceaseless influx of advertisements seemed to rival the surge in increasingly dogmatic and political declarations.

Almost overnight, our minds began to feast upon ceaseless streams of information, engendering a dependence on social platforms that supplanted our reliance on physical communities. This trajectory has inevitably led to the current pandemic of loneliness we face.

Social Media: A Nexus of Connection or Solitude?
The decline in social connection has been a prolonged phenomenon, which has now escalated into a crisis.

In May, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an alarming advisory titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” underscoring the urgency of the issue of social isolation and loneliness. The advisory recognized that just as physical environments can influence feelings of isolation or foster connections, digital environments carry a comparable weight, capable of enhancing or eroding our quality of life. Regrettably, contemporary digital platforms have played a role in contributing to historic levels of loneliness.

The influence of social media on our cultural fabric and communal well-being is extensively documented. The report asserts that when technology “diminishes the quality of our interactions,” it can intensify feelings of loneliness and weaken social bonds—a stark departure from social media’s intended purpose. This phenomenon can be encapsulated in the acronym FOMO, or fear of missing out. Instead of opening an app and immediately feeling connected to friends and followers, the instant access to others’ lives introduced heightened anxiety and apprehension of social exclusion into our daily routines.

Yet, FOMO is more than just a catchy phrase; it’s rooted in empirical evidence. Recent research suggests that individuals who spend more than two hours daily on social media are twice as likely to experience social isolation compared to those who use these platforms for less than half an hour. This underscores the reality that digital connectivity cannot replicate or substitute authentic human interaction; paradoxically, it may exacerbate the longing for genuine connections.

A Prospective Path to Amplified Connectivity
Given the escalating sense of isolation, it’s unsurprising that users repeatedly gravitate toward platforms that offer a genuine and captivating digital community—one that facilitates participation in authentic conversations and real moments.

However, social media cannot resolve the very loneliness it engenders without substantial, transformative change, necessitating a profound shift that places in-person connection at its core.

Numerous instances demonstrate the positive impact and endeavors catalyzed by social media, including connecting neighbors during times of crisis, empowering pro-democracy movements, fostering civic engagement, and more. Yet, these instances share a common trait: the ability to translate digital interactions into real-life community-building experiences. Rather than seeking to diminish the influence of these platforms, we require a design ethos that envisions a broader range of impacts—moving from narrow perspectives to inclusive, global identities rooted in connection and empathy.

When we reframe the hypothesis as “connectivity in pursuit of genuine connection,” we begin to conceive of a type of social media that can contribute to alleviating the loneliness epidemic and ultimately satiating users’ thirst for a truly fulfilling platform.