Facebook once tried to buy Musical.ly, the Chinese lip-syncing app that was eventually acquired by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance and merged with its app Douyin to form the viral video app TikTok, according to reports from BuzzFeed and Bloomberg.
Three sources familiar with the talks told BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac that Facebook spent the second half of 2016 trying to buy the Shanghai-headquartered Musical.ly in an attempt to break into the Chinese market. These sources said the talks were “serious” but never came to fruition, with Facebook unable to close the deal.
ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017.
Bloomberg’s reporting differed, with a source saying Facebook walked away out of “concern about the app’s young user base and Chinese ownership.”
The reports add a slightly different tenor to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent remarks about TikTok and China.
The Facebook CEO has been sounding the alarm against TikTok, criticizing the platform for censoring its users and scrubbing content that might displease the Chinese government. TikTok has denied censorship.
At the same time US senators are starting to scrutinize ByteDance and TikTok more closely. Earlier this month the company skipped a Senate hearing on China and big tech and was consequently “empty-chaired.”
During a public speech at Georgetown University in October, Zuckerberg said: “While our services like WhatsApp are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok, the China-based app growing quickly around the world, mentions of these same protests are censored, even here in the US.”
Sources told BuzzFeed that Zuckerberg’s attacks on TikTok were cynically motivated.
“Facebook is so pissed that TikTok is the one thing they can’t beat that they’ve turned to geopolitical arguments and lawmakers in Washington to fight their fight,” a former high-ranking Facebook employee told BuzzFeed.
Instagram on Tuesday launched a short-form video feature called “Reels” in Brazil, which has been widely characterized as a clone of TikTok. After the TechCrunch editor Josh Constine called the feature a “remarkably decent TikTok clone,” the Instagram boss Adam Mosseri commented: “Love the phrase ‘remarkably decent,’ high praise for sure given how much you love TikTok.”
In response to the BuzzFeed report a Facebook representative told Business Insider: “As Mark said in his speech at Georgetown, we wanted our services in China because we believe in connecting the whole world. But we could never come to an agreement on what it would take, and now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in — and we’re doing exactly that.”
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