Social media platforms compete with one another to attract the most eyeballs and maintain the most daily users. There is a finite amount of time each person has in a day, and each of the social platforms wants to fill as much of our time with their product as possible. The competition between the social media companies is fierce, and recently, news broke that one company was resorting to unseemly means to try and take down another.
Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, made news when their attempts to smear TikTok leaked. Meta is reportedly paying a GOP consulting firm called Targeted Victory to place op-eds and letters to the editor in various publications to create distrust around TikTok. The substance of these letters is that TikTok is dangerous to American children and that TikTok is a foreign-owned app that shares data on the young teens using it.
The purpose of this was to re-shape the narrative around social media that Facebook is often cast as the villain and cast a discerning eye on TikTok, which is a rising social media juggernaut. Meta is a massively powerful company with significant global influence, and getting the media to run bad news stories around TikTok is something that benefits them significantly.
Let’s look at what Meta’s motivation for this might’ve been and whether TikTok is a true threat to cut into Meta’s unparalleled number of social media users.
Meta has been one of the biggest tech companies on the planet for some time now, and they have built a model upon sustained growth. Since Facebook began in the early 2000s, it has amassed roughly 1.9 billion active users. That is around a quarter of the planet. However, something shocking happened recently. Facebook’s user base declined for the first time ever. While the decline was minuscule, only half a million followers, Facebook’s never released a quarterly report where its number of users went down.
This is, of course, remarkable that in Facebook’s 17-year history, they have only once seen a decline in the number of people using their platform. But Wall Street responded dramatically, with Meta shares dropping 20% in light of the news. In this environment where Meta is seeing their numbers drop, it is natural they’d be willing to come out on the offensive.
Meta, and Facebook, in particular, have received consistent backlash from the government and the media over issues like privacy and data protection. Other social media companies have largely escaped being the focal point of these issues. Meta is trying to bring TikTok into the mud with them and cast attention to their data protection problems to draw attention away from them.
This isn’t to say the empire is crumbling for Facebook and Meta. They have been the biggest platform on the planet for years and are likely to remain so. But TikTok is a new contender that has revolutionized the industry with its mysterious algorithm and short-form video content. It is only natural Meta would want to dig into such a competitor.
Is TikTok a Threat?
It is clear that if Facebook is strategizing on ways to publically smear the reputation of TikTok, they look at TikTok as serious competition. When TikTok first began blowing up, Meta took their model of short-form video content and dropped Instagram Reels, which is a nearly identical user experience. Millions of people use Reels every day; however, it hasn’t quite slowed the growth of TikTok.
TikTok was the fastest social media app to reach one billion monthly active users, aside from Facebook Messenger, which had the Facebook brand already established to propel it. TikTok’s ascent has been unparalleled, and while Facebook’s user base is rapidly aging, TikTok’s user base is extremely young.
According to Statista, 30% of US teen respondents said TikTok was their favorite social media platform in fall 2021. This was the second-most of any platform, behind Snapchat. Facebook came in at sixth, with 2% of respondents. This is a rapid decline from the same survey’s results in fall of 2012, when Facebook was the most popular platform, with 42% of the votes.
The platforms appear to be trending in opposite directions. However, Meta still has Instagram, which is hugely popular amongst teens. Facebook may have lost the youth to TikTok, which will impact their user base for years to come, but they still have made in-roads in nations across the globe. And while TikTok influencer marketing is extremely popular, Meta still dominates the social media marketing and social commerce world.
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