News & Opinion | November 18, 2019 11:04 am

TikTok Hits 1.5 Billion Downloads, Threatening Facebook

The app is rapidly winning over Gen Z, and Facebook is trying to keep up

TikTok is thriving, and Zuck is sweating.
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Gen Z social platform of choice TikTok is dominating, and its rapid rise to the top is causing all manner of concern throughout the United States.

The short-form video app recently hit 1.5 billion downloads, according to data from analytics site Sensor Tower. With 614 million downloads so far this year alone, the popular platform is seeing huge growth — up six percent from last year — which, according to Business Insider, poses an increasing threat to aging giant Facebook.

The third most-downloaded app, TikTok came out ahead of both Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram, according to Sensor. Coming in behind WhatsApp and Messenger, TikTok is the only non-Facebook-owned app in the top five.

In response to TikTok’s emerging popularity, Facebook has made attempts to mimic the successful platform, launching the video-sharing app Lasso in November 2018. Last month, the Verge published leaked audio from internal Facebook meetings that revealed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hoped Lasso would gain traction in markets where TikTok hadn’t yet taken hold, like Mexico. Earlier this month, Instagram also got in on the TikTok copycat action when it began testing a new feature called Reels with Brazilian users.

According to BuzzFeed News, Zuckerberg’s war against TikTok actually predates the app’s existence. Back in 2016, the Facebook CEO reportedly made a prolonged attempt to buy, the app that would become TikTok in 2017.

Meanwhile, a recent New York Times interview with TikTok head Alex Zhu reports the chief is dedicated to proving the app is “not a menace.” Like Facebook, the U.S. government also feels threatened by TikTok’s growing popularity among young Americans, but for obviously different reasons. According to the Times, some in Washington suspect the app, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, of all manner of ill-intent, including Communist Party indoctrination, data smuggling and political censorship.

Zhu adamantly denied any such accusations. “The data of TikTok is only being used by TikTok for TikTok users,” he told the Times. As far as the political accusations, Zhu maintained the platform had no aim for control. “Users perceive TikTok as a platform for memes, for lip-syncing, for dancing, for fashion, for animals — but not so much for political discussion,” he said. “For political content that still aligns with this creative and joyful experience, I don’t see why we should control it.”

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