Two hours after pressing the launch button on Wednesday on Threads, Instagram’s new app for real-time, public conversations, Mark Zuckerberg posted that more than two million people had downloaded his latest creation.
That was just the beginning.
Another two hours later, five million people had downloaded Threads. By the time Mr. Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta, went to bed on Wednesday night, the number of downloads had soared to 10 million. When he woke on Thursday morning, the app had been downloaded more than 30 million times, he said.
In less than a day, Threads — which is aimed as a rival to Twitter — appears to have taken the crown as the most rapidly downloaded app ever. It easily outstripped ChatGPT, the chatbot, which was downloaded one million times within its first five days, according to OpenAI, ChatGPT’s maker. And Threads is on a pace to exceed 100 million users within two months, a feat achieved only by ChatGPT, according to the analytics firm Similarweb.
Some of Twitter’s most-followed users — such as Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Shakira and Oprah Winfrey — immediately joined Threads and began posting. The atmosphere was celebratory, with users writing welcome messages and expressing eagerness to read one another’s posts. At one point, the new app was so inundated with users that it appeared unstable.
“This is as good of a start as we could have hoped for!” Mr. Zuckerberg, whose company owns Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp, said in a post on Threads on Thursday. He later added, “Feels like the beginning of something special.”
The early momentum underscored people’s desire to find an alternative to Twitter, the 17-year-old digital town square that has long been the central place for public conversation online. Since Elon Musk bought Twitter last year, the billionaire has instituted changes that have angered the social platform’s longtime users, especially those who do not care for his laissez-faire approach to content moderation. Twitter has also suffered from more outages and bugs.
Mr. Musk isn’t taking Mr. Zuckerberg’s actions lying down. In a letter dated Wednesday, lawyers for Twitter threatened legal action against Meta, accusing it of using trade secrets from its former employees to build Threads. Twitter also asked Meta to preserve internal documents relevant to a dispute between the two companies. The letter was earlier reported by Semafor.
“Competition is fine, cheating is not,” Mr. Musk tweeted on Thursday.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder, also jabbed at Mr. Zuckerberg’s new app. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 7 Twitter clones,” he tweeted on Thursday.
In a post to Threads, Andy Stone, a Meta spokesman, said that no former Twitter engineers were working on Threads. “That’s just not a thing,” he wrote.
Threads was a surprise hit for Meta, which has been badly in need of a win after being scrutinized for spreading misinformation and other toxic content across the internet. While Mr. Zuckerberg’s social network was celebrated in its early days, it has in recent years been criticized by regulators, activists and users upset with how the company handles data and its products. Meta has also faced questions about its move into the still-emerging immersive digital world of the so-called metaverse.
But this week was a reprieve — at least briefly — for Mr. Zuckerberg and his company. Inside Meta on Wednesday evening, employees rejoiced in the launch of Threads, sharing inside jokes and memes with one another, according to screenshots of the conversations viewed by The New York Times.
One employee noted that morale was soaring internally after a year of layoffs and retrenching at the company. Another shared a meme of two characters from the 1999 film “The Mummy,” telling each other that Twitter has been “replaced by Meta,” according to a screenshot.
Threads was a crash project that spun out of Instagram seven months ago, after the company decided it wanted to “make a bet” and take on Twitter, said Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram.
The project, code-named “Project 92,” was a closely held secret, two people familiar with the project said. The team was small, and other parts of Meta did not have access to initial versions of the app, they said.
Celebrities, brands and influencers were given early access to the app over the past few days, a move by Meta to kick-start a freewheeling culture of fun and discussion. Mr. Mosseri said that he wanted Threads to be a “friendly place” for public conversation.
“Can’t get enough of your threads,” the actress Jennifer Lopez said in a Threads post, adding an emoji of musical notes. Ms. DeGeneres, in her first Threads post, wrote, “Welcome to Gay Twitter!”
Yet such early momentum does not necessarily translate to long-term engagement and success. Twitter still has the lead, with more than 237 million daily users, according to the most recent public figures cited by the company last year. Meta also continues to face questions about its data privacy policies.
Some Threads users were also put off by an issue that may require them to delete their connected Instagram account if they wish to delete their Threads account. Instagram said it was looking into alternate ways that Threads users can deactivate their accounts.
Instagram appears to be taking a hands-on approach to what can and can’t be posted to Threads to create a “friendly” app for conversations, Mr. Zuckerberg has said.
Across the app, Threads obscured some posts behind a warning box indicating that the content was “reviewed by independent fact checkers” and ruled misleading. Users could click a button on the warning box to reveal the content. An additional pop-up box included a brief explanation about why the content was hidden and a link to a post by the fact checkers who made the ruling.
Threads also appeared to hide some comments entirely. Tomi Lahren, a right-wing influencer, asked in her first post on the app, “Will Meta be censoring conservative thought here too?” — a jab against mainstream social networks that have moderated false and misleading content in the past. At the bottom of the comments section on her post, a label appeared that read: “Some replies aren’t available.”
Another warning appeared when users tried to follow some influencers that Meta had previously flagged for publishing false or misleading content.
“Are you sure you want to follow” the person, the warning asked. “This account has repeatedly posted false information that was reviewed by independent fact-checkers or went against our Community Guidelines.” The same warning appeared during attempts to follow those users’ Instagram profiles.
For new Threads users like Kate Stone, a 63-year-old lawyer in North Carolina, having proper content moderation is important. She had a dormant Twitter account and had once dreamed of owning a Tesla, the electric cars made by Mr. Musk, but had given up on both when the tech billionaire began tweeting more politically conservative messages. But she wanted to be part of the public conversation online, and she thought Threads might be a way to do that.
“I read about Threads, and I don’t like Zuckerberg very much, but I saw it was easy to do if you have an Instagram account,” Ms. Stone said in an interview. “So I thought I’d give it a try.”
Stuart A. Thompson and Cade Metz contributed reporting.