The global launch, which has been in the works for over a year, comes as TikTok is facing scrutiny from Washington over its handling of user data and amid larger tensions between the United States and China.
Like TikTok, Instagram Reels lets users make and share 15-second video clips set to a vast catalog of music. Like TikTok, users can also borrow and remix audio from other people’s videos. And, like TikTok, users can see their clips go viral in a “Featured Reels” section of the most popular videos.
Facebook first launched Reels in Brazil last November and expanded it to France and Germany last month. It launched in India last week — just days after India banned TikTok and more than 50 other Chinese apps citing privacy and security concerns.
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Facebook will launch Reels in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Mexico and roughly 50 other countries. Users will be able to access Reels through a new icon at the bottom of their screen in Instagram and post Reels to Instagram Stories.
The new service may give Facebook, which has nearly 3 billion users across its services, the chance to stem the rapid rise of a rival service. Facebook has sought to counter rivals by mimicking their services before, including with Instagram stories, which imitated a similar feature from Snapchat.
“We are in a place where we have to be willing to acknowledge when someone did something awesome and try to learn from it,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said in an interview this year when asked about Snapchat.
At the same time, TikTok has become so wildly popular, especially among teenagers, that it may be too late to check its rise without government action. The service now has more than 30 million active users in the U.S., and has captured the cultural zeitgeist.
In recent months, the U.S. government has grown increasingly fearful that TikTok is violating user privacy and sharing data with the Chinese government. TikTok denies that accusation, and policy experts dispute whether such concerns are justified.
The White House is considering a ban on TikTok in the U.S., as well as a plan to try to force ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to sell the service to a non-Chinese company.
Last fall, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) opened an investigation into ByteDance and its 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, the company it used to launch TikTok in the U.S.
If the committee were able to demonstrate that TikTok was sharing data with the Chinese government, it could try to force ByteDance to sell Musical.ly, thereby disbanding TikTok’s U.S. business.
Aneesh Chopra, who was the first chief technology officer of the United States, under President Barack Obama, said that if the U.S. does decide to take action on TikTok, “the CFIUS path is the only one that is possible.”
Dylan Byers is a senior media reporter for NBC News based in Los Angeles.
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