Facebook launched its own version of the social media rival TikTok in the US and over 50 other nations on Wednesday, embedding a new short-form video service called Reels as a feature within Instagram.

The debut comes sometime after Microsoft mentioned it was discussing to acquire TikTok's US operations from ByteDance, which has agreed to divest parts of TikTok, sources had stated, under pressure from the White House as it is threatening to ban it and other Chinese-owned apps over security concerns.

The launch of Reels escalates a bruising fight between Facebook and TikTok, with each casting the other as a threat. Both have been eager to attract American teenagers, many of whom have flocked to TikTok in the last two years. Reels was first tested in Brazil in 2018 and then later in France, Germany, and India, which was TikTok's biggest market until the Indian government banned it last month following a border clash with China. Facebook also tried out a standalone app called Lasso which did not gain much traction.

Facebook Launches Reels

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Similar to TikTok, Reels users can record short mobile-friendly vertical videos, then add special effects and soundtracks pulled from a music library. Those similarities led TikTok Chief Executive Kevin Mayer to call Reels a "copycat product" that could coast on Instagram's enormous existing user base after "their other copycat Lasso failed quickly."

Facebook faced similar charges at a congressional hearing on U.S. tech companies' alleged abuse of market power last week, with lawmakers suggesting the company has copied rivals like Snapchat for anti-competitive reasons. Vishal Shah, Instagram's vice president of product, acknowledged the similarities in a Tuesday video conference call with reporters and said that "inspiration for products comes from everywhere," including Facebook's teams and "the ecosystem more broadly."

Instagram is not yet planning to offer advertising or other ways for users to make money through Reels, although it did recruit young online stars like dancer Merrick Hanna and musician Tiagz - who was recently signed by Sony/ATV after rising to fame via TikTok memes - to test the product ahead of launch.

The company paid the creators for production costs, Shah said. Joe Gagliese, chief executive of influencer marketing agency Viral Nation, said Reels was poised to mimic Instagram's success with Stories, a product modeled on Snapchat's core offering. "They're a huge monstrous threat [to TikTok]," he said. "The current turmoil couldn't be playing more into [Instagram's] court to launch this thing."

(With agency inputs)