One of the rising stars of the COVID era has been TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app that’s enchanted teens and young adults, while causing privacy concerns for our nation’s leaders.
But American-owned Instagram announced this week that it will launch a competitor by early August. The new feature, called Reels, is almost identical to TikTok.
What will Reels offer?
The major difference from the Chinese prototype is that posts on Reels will disappear when the story expires. TikTok, on the other hand, allows users to revisit videos permanently. If creators want to save their videos on Reels, they’ll have to add them to their profile.
Rolling Out the Feature
Reels will be available in the U.S. and 50 other countries by early August. It first launched last year in Brazil, and has also had trial runs in Germany and France. Additionally, Reels is available in India, which was TikTok’s second-largest market until its government banned the app last month over cybersecurity concerns.
If you are a casual Instagram user and are not looking forward to the inevitable avalanche of Reels stories, fear not. You can mute these stories by clicking a circular icon at the top of the home screen and holding down until a pop-up appears. Select “mute,” then “mute story.”
There are also rumors of a potential Reels app that is separate from the main Instagram app. This would be an attempt to recreate the TikTok experience.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
Reels will not be the first time that Instagram, which is a subsidiary of Facebook, has stolen popular features from other apps. Stories were originally a function of Snapchat, before Instagram recreated the feature and, using the same name. The move ultimately benefitted Instagram, as many users abandoned Snapchat for Instagram’s version of the Stories feature.
In 2018, Facebook created an app called Lasso with many of the same functions as TikTok. But Lasso never gained much steam. Facebook is now dismantling the app to make way for Reels.
The timing of the Reels launch is not insignificant. Just this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the White House might ban TikTok in the US over privacy concerns. The app, which is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, collects data from its users, many of whom are minors. Fears have now mounted in the States that the Chinese government has easy access to these data. If a TikTok ban is on the horizon, Reels will be waiting in the wings.