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Facebook Takes Aim at TikTok With Copycat Features on Instagram

First, Instagram killed Snapchat when it cribbed its Stories feature. Now, the social media platform is reportedly gunning for TikTok with a new format called Reels.

First spotted by TechCrunch, Reels is currently being rolled out in Brazil. Available on both iOS and Android, the feature lets users record 15-second clips that can then be set to music. Users can adjust speed, as well as borrow audio from other videos to remix and riff content. It also appears Instagram is adding video editing tools, like the ability to add timed captions and ghost overlays for transitions. Once a user is finished editing, the video can then be posted to their Stories—and may also be shared to a new “Top Reels” section in the Explore tab.

At the moment, there’s no concrete timeline for when we might see Reels stateside. An Instagram spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company is simply excited to test the feature in Brazil for now, and “incorporate learnings and feed back from the community as [it] goes.”

“We’re excited to test Reels, a new Stories format that gives our community a way to create entertaining, short-form videos with music,” Robbie Stein, Director of Product at Instagram, told Gizmodo over email. “Instagram Stories has always been a home for expression and we believe this new format has huge potential to enable more creativity for people.”

This isn’t Facebook’s first attempt at cloning TikTok. Last year, it launched Lasso, a short-form video platform aimed at teens. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because nobody really downloaded it. From November 2018 to February this year, Lasso had been downloaded by an estimated 70,000 U.S. users—a drop in the bucket compared to the 39.6 million TikTok downloads in the U.S. during the same period. While that could be an indication of TikTok’s staying power, it’s more likely just a demonstration of how difficult it is for a new social platform to gain traction. Instagram, however, is firmly entrenched with its audience.

That slow start isn’t necessarily a turn-off to Facebook, however. Last month, The Verge leaked audio of internal Facebook meetings. In it, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted he was hyper-aware that TikTok poses a challenge to Instagram. “It’s [TikTok] starting to do well in the U.S., especially with young folks. It’s growing really quickly in India. I think it’s past Instagram now in India in terms of scale,” Zuckerberg says in the leaked audio. He then went on to explain Facebook’s Lasso strategy would be to hit markets where TikTok hasn’t taken off yet, such as Mexico.

Given that context, it’s not surprising to see Facebook rolling out a copycat feature on Instagram too. Funnily enough, TikTok also seems to be taking cues from Instagram. This past summer, TikTok was spotted experimenting with an in-app Discover tab, as well as a grid layout for its feed that functions sort of like Instagram’s Explore page.

The timing of Instagram’s Reels feature is also worth noting. U.S. senators have been sounding the alarm that TikTok may pose a national security threat, and despite TikTok’s attempts to diffuse concern, it’s now undergoing a national security review. Considering the increased scrutiny, it’s not a bad time for TikTok’s rivals to stick a knife in its back. Other startups such as Firework are already hovering, ready to fill the void should TikTok stumble.

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