Douyin published an in-depth look at rival Tencent’s censorship of ByteDance products on Friday via its official WeChat account, cataloguing actions taken by Tencent between 2018 and 2021. The post described Tencent’s behavior as anticompetitive at a time when Chinese regulators are conducting a sweeping antitrust campaign in the country’s tech sector.
Douyin’s post went into excruciating detail about Tencent’s active censorship of 49 million posts on WeChat and QQ, two popular communications and social media platforms that are broadly used in China. In particular, WeChat functions as an all-around app and is installed on practically every smartphone in the country, functioning as a messenger, e-wallet, and “super app” that facilitates online purchases, doctor appointments, entertainment, and nearly every imaginable function through its third-party mini programs, or applets that are accessed through WeChat.
The provocative gesture is hardly the first time for Douyin and Tencent to lock horns. A lawsuit that dates back to 2018 pits the two companies against each other: Tencent sued Douyin for encouraging gamers to livestream their gameplay on Honor of Kings, a Tencent title, on Huoshan, a platform managed by Douyin. Last month. the court sided with Tencent and ruled that the company has the right to control livestreams that involve its games.
The authors of Douyin’s post prefaced their lengthy clapback by indicating it was a response to a smear on the short video sector by an unnamed Tencent executive, who characterized hosting short videos made popular by Douyin and TikTok as dumping feed into a trough for hogs. The same executive said an overwhelming volume of short videos “drags down the viewers’ intellect” and are “very unintellectual and vulgar,” essentially accusing Douyin and ByteDance of capitalizing on low-brow content.
The post included screenshots of WeChat posts made by ByteDance co-founder Zhang Yiming in 2018, when he wrote, “WeChat’s pretense for blocks, [Tencent’s short video app] Weishi’s copying and mimicry, won’t stop Douyin’s steps forward.” Tencent founder, chairman, and CEO Pony Ma sniped back in his reply: “This can be seen as libel.”
Douyin deleted its post on WeChat hours after it went online.
Chinese regulators have scrutinized tech companies with a new intensity since late 2020, with Tencent and ByteDance, Douyin’s parent, under the microscope alongside big names like Alibaba, JD.com, Meituan, and Didi Chuxing—each a company that has not only shaped China’s digital economy, but also defined how Chinese people shop, travel, and seek entertainment. Regulators have issued fines and demanded “rectification” of various business practices that span online groceries, personal transportation, e-commerce, and other forms of consumption; every tech firm in the regulators’ crosshairs has pledged to toe the line.
ByteDance and Tencent are in a skirmish to keep users’ gaze away from each other. ByteDance’s algorithmic content provision has proved a success—its first breakout app, news aggregator Toutiao, has more than 278 million monthly active users. Douyin, TikTok’s sibling in China, shows videos to more than 600 million people each day. This has peeled eyeballs away from Tencent’s feeds, which for nearly a decade were the go-to “everything” platform for many Chinese internet users.