Mark Zuckerberg spent September and October last year warning about the dangers posted by rival tech giant TikTok in what, according to a report on Sunday evening, was a deliberate attempt to turn Washington against the Beijing-owned company, almost a year before he launched his own version of it with Reels.
TikTok has gained more than 100 million U.S. users and is widely seen as the biggest threat to Facebook’s dominance of social media.
Instagram, which is part of Facebook, launched Reels on August 5. The company went after TikTok stars with huge followings and offered them large cash sums to switch over to their service.
In September Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, held a series of meetings with political figures – among them Tom Cotton, the Republican Senator for Arkansas and a man known to have the ear of the president.
In October Cotton and Chuck Schumer, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, wrote a letter to intelligence officials demanding an inquiry into TikTok.
That inquiry led, this spring, to concern from Donald Trump – who has now told the Chinese owners of TikTok to accept an offer to buy the company, or else be banned from the U.S.
Also in October, Zuckerberg spoke at Georgetown University, describing TikTok as being at odds with American values.
‘On TikTok, the Chinese app growing quickly around the world, mentions of protests are censored, even in the U.S.,’ he said in his speech.
‘Is that the internet we want?’
Days later, Zuckerberg reiterated his concerns about China during a White House dinner with Trump, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Facebook board member Peter Thiel, who has been a backer of Trump, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said Zuckerberg has no recollection of discussing TikTok at the dinner.
Zuckerberg’s team also reached out to members of Congress who are tough on China, the paper reported.
He asked them why TikTok should be allowed to operate in the U.S., when many American companies, including his own, cannot operate in China.
In November, Josh Hawley, a Republican Senator for Missouri who also had met with Zuckerberg in September, said in a hearing that TikTok threatens the privacy of American children.
‘For Facebook, the fear is lost social-media market share,’ he said.
‘For the rest of us, the fear is somewhat different.’
Facebook has established an advocacy group, called American Edge, that has begun running ads extolling U.S. tech companies for their contributions to American economic might, national security and cultural influence.
Facebook overall in the first half of this year spent more on lobbying than any other single company, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
‘Our view on China has been clear: we must compete,’ said Stone, the Facebook spokesman.
‘As Chinese companies and influence have been growing so has the risk of a global internet based on their values, as opposed to ours.’
Kevin Mayer, the CEO of TikTok, in July publicly accused Facebook of trying to unfairly quash competition.
‘At TikTok, we welcome competition,’ he said in a blog post.
‘But let’s focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor – namely Faceb….