Is Meta Platforms (META) a Buy with Plans for New App to Rival Twitter?

On October 27, 2022, Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter, Inc. Before everyone could let that sink in (figuratively as well as literally), the maverick entrepreneur implemented sweeping changes at the social networking company. In addition to slashing its headcount significantly, it also leaned on automation to moderate content.

While Mr. Musk claims that it has gained users after the change of ownership and management as an advertising-reliant business, Twitter’s troubles are far from over. It has witnessed an exodus of advertisers that was triggered by concerns, including the deterioration of moderation standards at the platform and a botched relaunch of Twitter’s subscription service, which led to a slew of verified impersonator accounts.

On March 10, Facebook-parent Meta Platforms, Inc. (META) announced its plans for a new decentralized, text-based social network. The stand-alone app, codenamed P92, is being built with the expectation of some of Twitter’s disenchanted users looking for alternatives after overhauling the microblogging site.

On June 9, META’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox said the app aimed for “safety, ease of use, reliability” and giving creators a “stable place to build and grow their audiences.”

Given that public figures reportedly want a similar platform that is “sanely run,” Cox added that META was in discussion with Oprah Winfrey, who has more than 42 million followers on Twitter, and the Dalai Lama, who has nearly 19 million, to be potential users.

The project is being helmed by Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, META's image-sharing app. The coding began in January, and although no date was given, there is some speculation that it could be released as early as the end of June.

From the screenshots that were shared internally and have since appeared online, the app's layout bore a resemblance to Twitter. However, it would enable users to log in using their Instagram credentials and could allow users to follow accounts they already follow on Instagram.

By relying on a protocol called ActivityPub, which enables interoperability between social networks, META is also exploring integrations allowing users to bring followers from their accounts with existing social networks like Twitter or Mastodon. This could bring down switching costs and encourage adoption.

How the Market Reacted?

META has been finding many takers on the Street in what, according to it, is its Year of Efficiency. In this context, its initiative to take on its more accomplished microblogging peer has been welcomed by investors.

Since the announcement of P92 on March 10, META’s stock has gained around 57% compared to the 14.6% gain of the S&P 500.

The Jury Is Still Out

Decentralization and interoperability are double-edged swords. While META hopes to gain adoption by lowering the entry barriers for users of other networks, in theory, this could also allow users of its new app to take their accounts and followers to apps supported by ActivityPub, such as Mastodon.\

Secondly, excluding its flagship social-networking app, META’s attempts at organic growth have a track record of flops, including the very name of the company and the purpose behind adopting the new nomenclature. Previous attempts at cloning, such as Lasso, which was supposed to offer an alternative to TikTok, have also failed.

Lastly, decentralized social networks, such as Mastodon or Jack Dorsey-backed Bluesky, rely on individual servers that use a uniform protocol, avoiding centralized content control and possible censorship.

Hence it remains to be seen if and how META, which is driven primarily by advertisement revenue, can productively marry decentralization with ownership while respecting the privacy of its users.