NEW YORK, United States – Facebook rolled out its own version of rival TikTok on social media in the United States and more than 50 other countries on Wednesday, with a new short video service called Reels as a feature in its popular Instagram app.
The debut comes days after Microsoft said it was in talks to take over TikTok’s US operations from China’s ByteDance. ByteDance has agreed to divest parts of TikTok, sources say, under pressure from the White House, which has threatened to ban it and other Chinese-owned apps due to data security concerns.
The launch of Reels escalates a blue battle between Facebook and TikTok, with each casting the other as a threat. Both were keen to attract American teens, many of whom have flocked to TikTok in the past two years.
Reels was first tested in Brazil in 2018 and then in France, Germany and India, TikTok’s largest market, until the Indian government banned it last month after a border clash with China. Facebook also tried a standalone app called Lasso that didn’t get a lot of traction.
Like TikTok, Reels users can record short mobile-friendly vertical videos and then add special effects and soundtracks from a music library.
Those similarities led TikTok to call Chief Executive Kevin Mayer Reels a “copycat product” that could end up on Instagram’s huge existing user base after “their other copycat Lasso quickly failed”.
Facebook faced similar charges during a congressional hearing about alleged abuses of market power by U.S. technology companies last week, with lawmakers suggesting that the company copied rivals such as Snapchat for anti-competitive reasons.
Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product, acknowledged the similarities in a video conference call with reporters on Tuesday, saying that “inspiration for products comes from everywhere,” including Facebook’s teams and “the ecosystem in general.”
Instagram is not yet planning to offer users any ads or other ways to make money through Reels, although it did recruit young online stars like dancer Merrick Hanna and musician Tiagz – who were recently signed by Sony / ATV after becoming famous via TikTok memes – to test the product before launch.
The company paid the makers for production costs, Shah said.
Joe Gagliese, chief executive of influencer marketing agency Viral Nation, said Reels was ready to mimic Instagram’s success with Stories, a product modeled after Snapchat’s core offering.
“They are a huge monstrous threat [to TikTok]”, he said.” The current unrest could no longer play [Instagram’s] court to launch this thing. “
By Katie Paul with additional reporting by Sheila Dang; Editors: Greg Mitchell and Edwina Gibbs.