According to recent reports, Facebook spent six months in 2016 trying to acquire Musical.ly — the Chinese lip-syncing app that became TikTok.
Sources speaking with Bloomberg and Buzzfeed report that Facebook hoped to acquire Musical.ly to break into the Chinese market. According to those sources, the talks in the second half of 2016 were ‘serious’ but nothing ever came to fruition.
ByteDance eventually acquired Musical.ly in 2017 — merging the app with Douyin to create TikTok.
Bloomberg reporting adds an additional angle to the reason why the deal never went through. Facebook walked away from the deal over concerns of the app’s young userbase and Chinese ownership.
That’s a concern that landed TikTok in hot water over child safety concerns. Lawmakers in India briefly banned the app — prompting a look at how TikTok moderates itself. The U.S. Treasury Department is currently investigating ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly.
The new reporting puts a different spin on Zuckerberg’s recent comments about TikTok.
Leaked audio from a meeting this summer revealed that Zuckerberg plans to move fast and copy things when it comes to TikTok. That strategy worked once before when Instagram cloned the Stories feature from Snapchat — so why wouldn’t the plan work again?
In true copycat form, Instagram recently unveiled a new feature called Reels in Brazil. Reels is a TikTok clone with fewer video editing features, but Instagram is huge in Brazil. Last year, Facebook launched a separate TikTok clone app called Lasso —but it hasn’t caught on anywhere but Mexico.
Facebook has never been shy about cloning apps if they can’t acquire them. Zuckerberg offered to buy Snapchat for $3 billion before Facebook and Instagram cloned its most popular features.
But when it comes to TikTok, it looks like Facebook’s copy-to-complete game plan isn’t quite panning out — at least not yet. Sources speaking to BuzzFeed say TikTok has become a personal bugbear for Zuckerberg. One former high-ranking Facebook official said:
“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.”
Just recently, Zuckerberg excoriated TikTok for censorship and other political abuses. “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,” Zuckerberg told an audience last month at Georgetown University.
Of course, Facebook itself has been accused of destroying democracy in realtime and radicalizing users en-masse. All of which probably makes TikTok a pleasant distraction for Zuckerberg.