Instagram head says Threads’ blocking of ‘covid’ and related terms is temporary, to lift in ‘weeks or months’

A week after Instagram head Adam Mosseri said the company’s new Threads app will not “amplify news,” saying it’s too risky for the young X competitor, the exec is now saying that one of the app’s more serious issues around blocking news — a ban on health-related search terms like “covid” — is only temporary. First reported by The Washington Post, Threads today blocks a number of terms for user safety and to drive its early focus on developing a “positive, friendly” culture. This includes blocks on search terms like “gore,” “nude,” “sex,” and “porn,” but also those tied to news around the Covid pandemic like “vaccines,” “vaccination,” “coronavirus,” “covid” and “long covid.”

 

Threads’ goal, explained Mosseri, was not to be “anti-news” as users could find and follow news accounts that share information. But it also won’t amplify news, saying it’s too risky “given the maturity of the platform.” But not allowing users to engage in discussions around Covid or read reporting on the topic has felt, to some, including The WaPo’s Taylor Lorenz, like a bridge too far. If Threads blocks people from searching for news reports about Covid and its aftermath, that means reduced visibility to news publications that report on the topic, and limited access to consumers of this sort of critical information.

In an exchange yesterday on Threads, Mosseri confirmed that such a block was only temporary, however, and the company was working on lifting it. He cited the current situation in Gaza as the more pressing focus right now in terms of managing content, and detailed other projects that Instagram has prioritized before unblocking Covid-related terms.

“We’re just getting pulled in a lot of directions at once right now,” Mosseri wrote on Threads. “The biggest safety focus right now is managing content responsibly given the war in Israel in Gaza. The broader team is working on deeper integrations into Instagram and Facebook, graph building, EU compliance, Fediverse support, trending, and generally making sure Threads continues to grow,” he added.

In a follow-up, he said that the reality of the situation was that there’s “lots of important work to do” and Threads’ block on Covid would likely lift in a matter of weeks or months. In other words, Threads’ move to block the terms is not a permanent decision — it’s one where Threads prioritized other areas instead of trying to manage the potential risks around Covid misinformation spreading at a time when the network is still growing.

Still, it’s an extreme step to take to actually create a blocklist of terms that, when searched, provide no results, as it limits conversations, debate, and news-sharing. It also means Threads won’t have the feel of a fast-moving news network, like X, where discussions happen in real-time and almost nothing is off-limits.

That may be the point, though. As Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently explained in an interview, Threads didn’t want to become just another Twitter — an app he described as indexing “very strong on just being quite negative and critical.” Instead, he wanted Threads to be more accessible to a lot of people, and a “positive” place for discussions. Today, that means an early culture where it blocks adult topics and censors terms that could lead to more heated discussions.

However, these choices may be limiting Threads’ adoption by those looking to leave Twitter/X in some cases. Reports indicate that Threads’ usage dropped by half from its initial surge and now the company is looking for new ways to revive interest in the app, including by courting creators to post more often.


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