Facebook rolled out its own version of social media rival TikTok in the United States and more than 50 other countries, embedding a new short-form video service called Reels as a feature within its popular Instagram app.
The debut comes days after Microsoft said it was in talks to acquire TikTok’s US operations from China’s ByteDance. ByteDance has agreed to divest parts of TikTok, sources have said, under pressure from the White House which has threatened to ban it and other Chinese-owned apps over data security concerns.
The launch of Reels escalates a bruising fight between Facebook and TikTok, with each casting the other as a threat. Both have been eager to attract American teenagers, many of whom have flocked to TikTok in the last two years.
Reels was first tested in Brazil in 2018 and then later in France, Germany and India, which was TikTok’s biggest market until the Indian government banned it last month following a border clash with China. Facebook also tried out a standalone app called Lasso which did not gain much traction.
Similar to TikTok, Reels users can record short mobile-friendly vertical videos, then add special effects and soundtracks pulled from a music library.
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Those similarities led TikTok Chief Executive Kevin Mayer to call Reels a “copycat product” that could coast on Instagram’s enormous existing user base after “their other copycat Lasso failed quickly.”