TikTok fights plagiarism by Facebook, US bullying

2020-08-05 09:28:22

Xinhua, August 5, 2020

Facing threats of a U.S. ban and smears by rival Facebook, popular video-sharing app TikTok is compelled to respond to what observers describe as an effort to rip up the Chinese-owned firm and reap their own commercial, political benefits, and monopolize the tech economy.

In a statement issued Monday, ByteDance, owner of the video platform, said in the course of becoming a global firm, it has "faced all kinds of complex and unimaginable difficulties, including the tense international political environment, collision and conflict of different cultures and plagiarism and smears from competitor Facebook."

The company vows to strive for its vision of globalization, strictly abide by local laws, and actively safeguard its legitimate interests and rights.

Proof of plagiarism

Bytedance's allegations of plagiarism against Facebook have two aspects, said Zhang Xiaorong, an internet market analyst in Beijing.

Facebook launched a knockoff app named Lasso in 2018, but it soon failed. In November last year, Facebook launched Instagram Reels, which also bears highly identical features as TikTok, and is spending hugely to promote the app in several countries, Zhang said.

Facebook has promoted the new app in Brazil, France, Germany and more recently in India, he said.

TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer mentioned the two copycat products in an article on the company website last week.

"At TikTok we welcome competition. We think fair competition makes all of us better. To those who wish to launch competitive products, we say bring it on. Facebook is even launching another copycat product, Reels (tied to Instagram), after their other copycat Lasso failed quickly," Mayer wrote.

Mayer slammed Facebook's "maligning attacks" disguised as patriotism to drive TikTok out of the United States.

He added the company is willing to take all necessary steps to ensure its long-term availability and success.

"Facebook has fared rather poorly in the field of short videos, and it then launched the two apps which resemble TikTok. The logic and facts speak volumes of copying. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not deny it himself," said Huang Yuanpu, founder of EqualOcean, a leading tech-media and investment research company in China.

Threats laid bare

The U.S. government threatened to ban TikTok video app Monday under the pretext of maintaining a free and fair market as well as national security concerns, a pretense widely used to discriminate against Chinese companies and investment.

Speaking to reporters at the White House briefing, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed that he is open to a deal in which Microsoft Corp. or other U.S. companies buy one of the most popular video-sharing apps. He set Sept. 15 as the deadline for TikTok to find a U.S. buyer or face shutdown in the country.

"The fate of the platform remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: Banning it would upturn fundamental principles of democracy," wrote Nicholas Thompson, editor in chief of Wired, in an article titled "The Rank Hypocrisy of a TikTok Ban" Monday.

"It's a rare feat to upturn two such fundamental democratic values -- free speech and free markets -- at the same time," Thompson said.

Beneath the excuse of national security lies the true intent for political and commercial gains, analysts say.

"The tricks used by the U.S. against firms like TikTok reflect a deep-rooted prejudice against China," said Luo Yihang, founder of Pingwest, a tech consulting firm.

"Flagrant suppression of rivals and containment will eventually undermine commercial innovation in the United States in the long run and it will surely block technological exchanges between the two countries," he said.

Outpour of anger

Washington's TikTok ban has sparked outrage among more than 70 million monthly active users of the app in the United States. A hashtag #savetiktok2020 was seen trending, and videos with the hashtag #ban had more than 620 million views by Sunday night on TikTok. Many users have grown to rely on the platform for building a career in social media and earn a living.

Since September 2018, TikTok usage among adults in the United States has increased exponentially, doubling and reaching 14.3 million in just six months, recording the third-highest number of downloads in the world. As of April, the app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times worldwide on both the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The firm's U.S. job growth has already nearly tripled this year, surging from almost 500 employees on Jan. 1 to just under 1,400.

"We're not planning on going anywhere," said TikTok's U.S. General Manager Vanessa Pappas, who thanked American users for their "outpouring of support" in a video posted on its official TikTok account.

"When it comes to safety and security, we're building the safest app because we know it's the right thing to do ... We're here for the long run. Continue to share your voice here and let's stand for TikTok," said Pappas.

For weeks, the Trump administration has repeatedly targeted the company, citing concerns over the privacy and security of its American users. TikTok has refuted the allegations saying it has an American CEO and that its servers are in the United States.

In a statement Wednesday, CEO Kevin Mayer said, "we are not political, we do not accept political advertising and have no agenda -- our only objective is to remain a vibrant, dynamic platform for everyone to enjoy."

"Without TikTok, American advertisers would again be left with few choices. Competition would dry up and so too will an outlet for America's creative energy," Mayer said.