Twitter vs Threads: Billionaires feud over social media apps

Lungile Msomi
By Lungile Msomi, ITWeb journalist
Johannesburg, 07 Jul 2023
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter owner Elon Musk.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter owner Elon Musk.

Twitter has threatened to sue Meta over its new Threads social media platform, in a letter sent to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg by Twitter owner Elon Musk's lawyer, Alex Spiro.

In the letter, seen by ITWeb, Spiro accuses Meta of hiring former Twitter employees who had and continue to have access to Twitter's trade secrets and other highly-confidential information.

In November 2022, Musk fired several employees who criticised him after he bought the micro-blogging platform for $44 billion.

In the letter, Spiro also alleges Meta assigned those employees to develop “Meta’s copycat ‘Threads’ app with the specific intent that they use Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property in order to accelerate the development of Meta’s competing app, in violation of both state and federal law, as well as those employees’ ongoing obligations to Twitter”.

Meta has denied these allegations.

“No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee – that’s just not a thing," Meta spokesperson Andy Stone says in a Threads post.

Commenting on this development, Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, says Twitter’s threat of a lawsuit against Meta is laughable.

“To start, Elon Musk fired a good portion of his software engineers, forcing them to find jobs elsewhere. He can hardly complain if they joined Meta – although Meta has denied hiring Twitter engineers in order to compete.

“Secondly, Twitter is now so broken, the only aspects worth copying, from a software point of view, are those that are in any case publicly obvious. No one has to steal Twitter secrets to improve on Twitter,” says Goldstuck.

The letter also says Twitter has serious concerns that Meta has “engaged in systematic, wilful and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property”.

“Twitter intends to strictly enforce its intellectual property rights, and demands that Meta take immediate steps to stop using any Twitter trade secrets or other highly-confidential information,” Spiro wrote.

Meta launched its Threads app yesterday and has since logged more than 30 million sign-ups by using the billions of users that currently exist on Instagram.

The letter also says Meta is prohibited from engaging in any crawling or scraping of Twitter’s followers or following data.

“As set forth in Twitter’s terms of service, crawling and Twitter services – including but not limited to, any Twitter websites, SMS, APIs, e-mail notifications, applications, buttons, widgets, ads and commerce services, is permissible only if done in accordance with the provisions of the robots.txt.”

Commenting on the potential of Threads surpassing Twitter as the preferred text-based app, Goldstuck says: “Threads has two massive advantages over Twitter. The first is that it is not hell-bent on chasing off its users.

“The second is far more significant: itleverages the Instagram user base, which means that more than two billionpeople are being urged, as they open Instagram, to join Threads. It is inevitablethat it will overtake Twitter.”

Since Musk's takeover of Twitter in October, the social media platform has faced competition from Mastodon and BlueSky, among others.

As the feud continues between the two tech billionaires, Musk stated: “Competition is fine, cheating is not,” in a response to a tweet citing the news of the potential lawsuit.

Spiro’s letter concludes with: “Please consider this letter a formal notice that Meta must preserve any documents that could be relevant to a dispute [with] Twitter, Meta and/or former Twitter employees who now work for Meta. That includes, but is not limited to, all documents of Meta’s competing Threads app, and any communications between these former Twitter employees and any agent, representative, or employee of Meta.”

Meta has as yet not responded to the potential lawsuit or the letter.