It seems that Facebook is still taking inspiration from other platforms as it looks to thwart the rapid ascension of TikTok.
Last November, Snapchat launched its take on the short-form video trend, called Spotlight, which is a feed of short, TikTok-like video clips that live in a dedicated tab within the Snapchat app.
The format is very familiar, and Facebook-owned Instagram already has Reels to cover off on this element. But the key differentiator of Spotlight is the fact that Snap is also paying out $1 million per day to the top Spotlight creators, in order to further boost interest in the option.
That’s been an effective approach, with Spotlight now being visited by 125 million Snapchatters every month, and some creators making big money from their Spotlight clips.
It’s been so effective, in fact, that it appears that Instagram is now looking to introduce a similar payment program, with app researcher Alessandro Paluzzi spotting this announcement screen in the back-end code of the app.
As you can see here, Instagram appears to be testing a new ‘bonuses’ program, which would be focused on Reels promotion.
As per the first point above, the program would enable users to ‘earn bonuses from Instagram’ when they share new Reels content. You would then, seemingly, need to reach certain bonus thresholds in order to claim ‘earnings’ from the program, while there would also be variable bonuses made available to creators.
The explainer notes don’t specifically say that users would earn cash payouts from the program, but it does seemingly align with the Snapchat Spotlight approach, in paying selected creators for their Reels contributions – though apparently based on upload volume as opposed to engagement/quality.
Which, really, is not overly surprising.
Facebook’s product development playbook for the last five years or so has basically come down to two simple elements – ‘CTRL C’ and ‘CTRL V’. Whenever a platform launches something effective, it’s just a waiting game to see when Facebook will copy it, and with its unmatched scale providing the ultimate lure, it’s generally been able to negate and/or blunt competition through this approach.
I mean, if it works, there’s no reason for Facebook to stop doing it – but then again, in the case of TikTok specifically, Facebook, thus far, hasn’t been able to slow its momentum, with the Chinese-owned short-form video app shrugging off Facebook’s various replications and roadblocks to continue forward on its way towards becoming the next billion-user social media platform.
And Facebook has most definitely tried:
- Facebook launched its first TikTok clone called ‘Lasso‘ in 2018, with a focus on markets where TikTok had not yet established an audience. The project never caught on, and Facebook shut Lasso down for good in July last year.
- Facebook has had far more success with its most direct assault on TikTok in Instagram Reels, which Facebook launched in India just days after TikTok was banned in the region. Instagram is still looking at how to maximize Reels, with IG chief Adam Mosseri reporting steady progress for the option.
- Along with the Reels launch, Facebook also offered some of the top TikTok creators big money deals to post to Reels exclusively instead. It’s unclear how effective that’s been in boosting Reels take-up
- Facebook has also launched several TikTok-like experimental apps via its NPE team, including music collaborations app ‘Collab‘ and the rap-focused ‘Bars‘, both of which are centered around short-form video clips.
All of these efforts have been launched with TikTok in mind, as part of Facebook’s strategy to slow the growth of the app. But Facebook’s most direct assault on TikTok is actually rarely discussed, and likely not even known about among the general public.
Back in 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a “secret” dinner with then US President Donald Trump, in which the two discussed the many challenges and opportunities within the broader tech sphere.
A key focus of that meeting was indeed the rise of TikTok – as explained by The Wall Street Journal:
“In a private dinner at the White House in late October, Mr. Zuckerberg made the case to President Trump that the rise of Chinese internet companies threatens American business, and should be a bigger concern than reining in Facebook, some of the people said.”
That reflects the same sentiment that Zuckerberg shared in a speech to Georgetown University just ahead of this meeting with Trump, in which Zuckerberg explained that:
“China is building its own internet focused on very different values, and is now exporting their vision of the internet to other countries. Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values. There’s no guarantee these values will win out.”
Zuckerberg specifically noted in his speech that TikTok had been censoring some users at the behest of the Chinese Government, as he underlined the rising concerns related to the expansion of the CCP’s reach through such apps.
What happened then?
In early November, literally days after Zuckerberg’s meeting with Trump, the US Government announced a national security investigation into TikTok, which eventually, lead to Trump pushing for a full ban on TikTok in the US, unless it could be sold into US ownership. That eventually fell flat, but the element that many people overlook is that Facebook started that whole process – it was Facebook that sowed the seeds of doubt with the US Government, which eventually saw the Trump administration almost force TikTok out of business, at least as we know it.
It’s also worth also noting in this context that Facebook spent more than any of the big tech giants on political lobbying in 2020, increasing its spend by 17.8% year-on-year to $19.68 million, as it seeks to exert more influence over policy decisions related to its interests.
Facebook is doing all that it can to force TikTok out – and while on one hand, it does actually stand to benefit from the rise of the Chinese-owned app, in that it weakens the FTC’s ongoing antitrust case against the company, Facebook also knows that it could lose out big-time in the long run. It was, of course, Facebook that originally usurped MySpace for social media dominance.
Could TikTok eventually be a ‘Facebook killer’?
Realistically, probably not, but trends that take hold in younger age brackets can lead to new habitual behaviors, and with people now reportedly spending more time in TikTok than they are in either Facebook or Instagram, Facebook does indeed have some cause for concern.
In summary, you can expect Facebook’s replication efforts to continue, and as more platforms find new ways to grow and expand their own offerings, Facebook will keep taking inspiration from those ideas as well, while also pushing for increased Government regulation that works in its favor.
Such is the benefit of being the biggest, most well-resourced player in the space.
Meta Launches New Legal Proceedings Against Data Scraping, Helping to Establish Precedent Around Misuse
Meta has launched two new legal actions against data scraping sites, which have extracted user data from both Instagram and Facebook for unauthorized use, while it’s also seen a new victory in its battle against platform misuse, with a court ruling in its favor in another case related to clone sites.
First off, on its new actions – Meta has launched legal proceedings against two companies that offer data scraping services, which illegally use people’s uploaded info for unintended purpose.
As explained by Meta:
“The first action is against a company called Octopus, a US subsidiary of a Chinese national high-tech enterprise that claims to have over one million customers. Octopus offers scraping services and access to software that customers can use to scrape any website. For a fee, Octopus customers can launch scraping attacks from its cloud-based platform or hire Octopus to scrape websites directly. Octopus offers to scrape data from Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Yelp, Google, Target, Walmart, Indeed, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.”
Meta says that Octopus’ system is able to extract data about people’s Facebook Friends ‘such as email address, phone number, gender and date of birth, as well as Instagram followers and engagement information, such as name, user profile URL, location and number of likes and comments per post’.
That’s information that users never intended to be utilized in this way, and Meta’s looking to establish clearer legal standing on this type of misuse.
The second company that Meta has launched legal action against is managed by a single operator in Turkey, and has been using automated Instagram accounts to scrape data from the profiles of over 350,000 Instagram users.
“These profiles were viewable to logged-in Instagram users. The Defendant published the scraped data on his own websites or “clone sites.” A clone site is a website that copies and displays Instagram profiles, posts and other information without authorization.”
Both seem like fairly clear-cut violations of Meta’s terms of service, but the legal technicalities of online data scraping are not so definitive, with LinkedIn currently engaged in a years-long battle over a similar data-scraping case, in which users’ publicly available LinkedIn info is being used to power an external employee database and recruitment site.
In the most recent finding in this case, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that scraping data that’s publicly accessible on the internet isn’t in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, despite users not explicitly providing consent for their information to be utilized by third-party providers in this way.
That case will no doubt also be used in the defense against Meta’s latest legal actions – but as Meta outlines, there is a variance here in that the information gathered by these tools is not publicly accessible, as such, which is part of the reason why Meta has gradually locked down Facebook and Instagram data more and more over the years, giving the company more definitive legal grounding in any such misuse.
That could lead to a new legal precedent for such, which may not necessarily help in LinkedIn’s case – but then again, LinkedIn has also been moving to lock down more of its user data to combat the same, which could eventually see any ruling apply to all such cases.
Either way, the misuse of user data in this way is clearly a violation of privacy, as it’s taking people’s personal info without consent. One way or another, it seems that the laws around such need to be updated – and maybe, these new cases from Meta can advance the argument in this respect.
Which is what Meta’s been trying to do with its various legal cases against platform misuse. And recently, it had a victory, with a court ruling that another operator that had been scraping Instagram user data to fuel clone sites was guilty of misuse.
As per Meta:
“In 2020, we filed an action against a defendant scraping people’s publicly-visible information from Instagram in order to create a network of clone sites. This was a violation of our Terms of Service and we filed a lawsuit in order to protect our users. The Court recently issued a final judgment in our favor and found Defendant liable for scraping data from Instagram users and republishing it on his clones sites. The Defendant was ordered by the Court to pay over $200,000 and is banned from using Facebook or Instagram.”
Each ruling in Meta’s favor helps to establish clearer precedent, and as it continues to launch new legal proceedings in order to reiterate the significance of data scraping and misuse, that, ideally, will further build Meta’s broader case load to solidify legal standing.
Which will see more of this type of activity outlawed and penalized, and will ultimately disincentive fraud in the space. It takes time, as each case needs to go through the legal process (as per this recent ruling), but Meta continues to establish stronger foundations for future cases with every step.
Which is another way to evolve the laws around such, embedding rulings by proxy, which will help to address such as clear legal violations in future.
There’s a way to go, on several fronts, but Meta’s legal procedures help to build the foundations of law around these evolving forms of data misuse.
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