Thu. Nov 21st, 2019

Mark Zuckerberg says TikTok is a threat to democracy, but didn’t say he spent 6 months trying to buy its predecessor

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Mark Zuckerberg says TikTok is a threat to democracy, but didn’t say he spent 6 months trying to buy its predecessor

  • Facebook tried to buy Musical.ly, the company which was eventually bought by Chinese tech giant ByteDance and merged into rival social media platform TikTok, according to BuzzFeed and Bloomberg.
  • Sources told BuzzFeed Facebook wasn’t able to close the deal, while Bloomberg reports it walked away over Musical.ly’s young usership and Chinese ownership.
  • Mark Zuckerberg has been on the offensive against TikTok in recent months, criticizing the platform for reportedly censoring content.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Facebook once tried to buy Musical.ly, the Chinese lip-syncing app which was eventually acquired by Chinese  tech giant ByteDance and merged with its app Douyin to form 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 that while the talks were “serious” they never came to frutition with Facebook unable to close the deal.

ByteDance bought Musical.ly in 2017.

Bloomberg’s reporting differs, with a source saying that 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 scrutinise ByteDance and TikTok more closely. Earlier this month the company skipped a senate hearing on China and big tech, and were 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.”

He added: “Is that the internet we want?”

Sources told BuzzFeed that Zuckerberg’s attacks on TikTok are 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 yesterday launched a short-form video feature called “Reels” in Brazil, which has been widely characterized as a clone of TikTok. After TechCrunch editor Josh Constine called the feature a “remarkably decent TikTok clone,” Instagram boss Adam Mosseri commented: “Love the phrase ‘remarkably decent,’ high praise for sure given how much you love TikTok.”

Love the phrase ‘remarkably decent,’ high praise for sure given how much you love TikTok, 🙌🏼

— Adam Mosseri (@mosseri) November 12, 2019

In response to the BuzzFeed report a Facebook spokesperson 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.” 

TikTok declined to comment when contacted by Business Insider.

Do you work at Facebook or TikTok? Contact this reporter via email at ihamilton@businessinsider.com or iahamilton@protonmail.com. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

SEE ALSO: Mark Zuckerberg describes in leaked recording his plan of attack for taking on TikTok, Facebook’s newest threat

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