TikTok boss lambasts Facebook for ‘maligning attacks’ and ‘copycat’ product

Kevin Mayer’s criticism made hours before Mark Zuckerberg faces Congress grilling

Facebook’s planned Instagram Reels product is a TikTok ‘copycat’, said TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP

Facebook’s planned Instagram Reels product is a TikTok ‘copycat’, said TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP


Kevin Mayer, the chief executive of TikTok, has accused Facebook of trying to destroy the Chinese app’s US business by smearing it with “maligning attacks”.

In his first public comments since joining TikTok from Disney, Mr Mayer issued an 800-word defence of the viral video app, which is under pressure from US regulators and may even be banned by the White House.

Without TikTok, he said, US advertisers “would again be left with few choices”. He described Instagram Reels, a new video service from Facebook that will launch in the US in early August, as a “copycat product” and noted that a similar service from Facebook called Lasso had “failed quickly”.

“At TikTok we welcome competition,” he said. “But let’s focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor – namely Facebook – disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US.”

The rapid growth of TikTok, which now has tens of millions of users in the US, has threatened Facebook’s platforms, including Instagram.

Mr Mayer made his statement just hours before Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was due to face questions from Congress over whether his company has built up a monopoly by squashing or scooping up rivals.

According to prepared remarks ahead of the antitrust hearing, Mr Zuckerberg was set to describe Facebook as a “proudly American company”, arguing that the rapid ascent of Chinese tech threatens western “values” of free speech and democracy.

TikTok ownership

The strongly worded statement will set the tone for the leadership of Mr Mayer, an all-American media executive who arrived in June to boost TikTok’s reputation among US lawmakers on Capitol Hill sceptical of its Chinese ownership.

Just weeks into his tenure, however, tensions are rising between TikTok and Facebook, after the latter ran a series of advertisements by US president Donald Trump’s campaign suggesting that TikTok was “spying” on its tens of millions of US users – claims that TikTok denies.

In private, both investors and insiders at the company have speculated that Facebook is lobbying against TikTok behind closed doors.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Trump administration is considering banning TikTok by blacklisting its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, over national security fears. A consortium of its US investors led by Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic is also in talks with the US Treasury about buying the app.

In his statement, Mr Mayer noted that TikTok’s plans to spend $200 million on the creators on its app would create 10,000 jobs in the US.

He also highlighted plans - which have been delayed owing to coronavirus - to launch a “Transparency and Accountability Center” that will allow outsiders to observe its moderation policies “in real time”, and “examine the actual code that drives our algorithms”.

He added: “We believe all companies should disclose their algorithms, moderation policies and data flows to regulators.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020