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TikTok owner blasts ‘anti-competitive’ rival after top executive bemoans ‘brain-washing pig feed’ short video content

TikTok owner blasts ‘anti-competitive’ rival after top executive bemoans ‘brain-washing pig feed’ short video content
Senior officers of feuding Chinese tech giants have clashed over whose product for sharing short videos is the more harmful to impressionable youth. The sector is among the fastest-growing in the country.

This week, executives at TikTok’s owner ByteDance and internet behemoth Tencent Holdings have exchanged not-so-veiled accusations of having profited from immoral practices, as the companies compete for the lucrative short video sharing market in China. The first salvo was launched by Tencent’s Vice President Sun Zhonghuai, when he was speaking at a tech conference in Chengdu. He bemoaned the low quality of content available on short video platforms and the power of personalized algorithms used to generate feeds.

“A lot of people at train stations, airports and subway stations play these brain-washing short videos out loud like idiots,” Sun said at the annual China Internet Audio & Video Convention (CIAVC). He likened these videos to “pig feed” and warned that they “could quickly bring down the taste and aesthetics of an entire generation.” 

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Responding to Sun in an article on Friday, ByteDance’s Vice President Li Liang pointed to Tencent’s own rapid development of short video platforms. “Perhaps [Sun] is not aware that the only short video platform that has not implemented a ‘minor protection mode’ as required is the ‘Channels’ function of WeChat,” he wrote.

Launched in beta in January 2020, within six months WeChat Channels boasted over 200 million active daily users, according to company reports. Another successful Tencent-backed product, Kuaishou, has a reported active audience of 300 million. Douyin, the Chinese sister service of ByteDance’s TikTok, leads the market, with 600 million users. The short video sector is one of the fastest-growing areas of online content in China.

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ByteDance later posted a lengthy post on its WeChat channel, calling Sun’s remarks “extremely arrogant and unfair” and accusing Tencent of having engaged in anti-competition practices for years. In February, the company sued its competitor, alleging that Tencent was breaking rules meant to prevent monopolization of the Chinese tech sector, the draft of which had been unveiled in November.

ByteDance alleges that Tencent-owned platforms deliberately suppressed user access to their content and apps. Tencent said its behavior was not meant to stifle competition since it applied to its own services and accused ByteDance of deceptively harvesting WeChat users’ data.

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Incidentally, earlier this week Tencent posted an explanation of what behaviors by video content creators and livestreamers it considers to be in violation of its platforms’ rules. Based on content-removal precedents, more than 70 examples included nose-picking, wearing underwear on the head, reading tarot cards and smashing cacti with bare hands as part of a challenge.

The accusation of being corruptive to public morals carries a significant weight in China, where the government treats societal harmony as a paramount goal. Global Times, the tabloid that is considered to be reflective of the Chinese Communist Party’s views on various issues, commented on the bickering of the two tech giants, saying that the reaction of Chinese netizens was of a “pot calling the kettle black” nature.

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