Facebook launches Instagram Reels, but can it reel in TikTok users?

Facebook is finally making a move against TikTok—the popular video-sharing app currently in the crosshairs of U.S. lawmakers—by officially launching its own short-video feature.

Reels is a new feature on Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook. Like TikTok, users can record and edit short videos, set these to music and even add filter and special effects. Instagram users can share their Reels using a dedicated section called Reels in Explore or as a story, which disappears after 24 hours.

While Reels officially launched in the U.S. on Wednesday, Facebook has been testing the feature in countries like Brazil, Germany and France since last year.

Ripping off the competition

For TikTok, which has built its foothold on user-generated dance videos, comedy skits and viral challenges, the U.S. launch of Reels comes at a particularly difficult time. The app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is facing a looming ban in the U.S. over claims that the Chinese government could exploit data collected by the app. (READ: TikTok’s looming ban is the latest in rocky relationship with US government)

On Monday, President Donald Trump said that ByteDance must divest its U.S. operations by Sept. 15 or shut it down entirely. Microsoft is reportedly in talks to buy the company.

The move also continues Facebook’s practice of cloning competitive services—something that CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other tech moguls have been pressed on in a congressional hearing last week.

When asked by Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington on whether Facebook copies competitors, Zuckerberg answered that Facebook, like other companies, has “adapted features that others have led in.”

In a blog post last month, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer blasted the new feature, calling it a “copycat product.”

“To those who wish to launch competitive products, we say bring it on,” Mayer wrote.

In response, Robby Stein, Instagram’s director of product, credited TikTok with making short-video popular, he noted that Reels was tailored to its community.

“At the end of the day, these products are just a piece of video, a creative tool, and a way to look at it,” he added. “We’ve really focused on how this type of format could work within the Instagram community.”

In fact, Instagram’s “Story” feature, which lets people share photos and videos that expire in 24 hours, is Facebook’s bluntly successful move to clone Snapchat. The social media giant has tried to copy TikTok with a feature called Lasso in 2018, but it was shuttered in July, potentially giving way to Reels. Before the success of Instagram’s Story, it tried to rip off Snapchat with apps like Slingshot and Poke.

Turning Reels into a honeypot

According to Vishal Shah, Instagram’s product chief, Reels is a “creator-centric” approach that aims to get people discovered and have their own following. A good measure of Reels’ success is if its users become global superstars based on their videos.

“It’s not unique at all—it’s a complete copy of TikTok,” commented Alec Wilcock, a social media commentator in France, in his June review of the feature.

It may be unoriginal, but it’s a move Instagram can use to launch the feature successfully.

“One of the things that keeps people producing content is the chance that you might win the lottery and go viral,” explained Krishna Subramanian, a social media consultant, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “If you haven’t gotten it yet, someone in your circle has.”

Instagram boasts of over a billion users worldwide. TikTok says it has 100 million users in the U.S., and even more globally.

Let the catfight begin, eh?

Ralph Gurango

explainer | newsman | jrpg adventurer

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