The social media landscape and the accompanying fight for digital ad dollars might get even more competitive as TikTok prepares to launch a new app for sharing photos, which would rival Meta Platforms’ Instagram. But should Meta Platforms worry about the launch?

Of late, many TikTok users have received notifications about a new app named “TikTok Notes,” through which they can share photos.

Confirming the launch of the app, TikTok told TechCrunch, that it is “exploring ways to empower our community to create and share their creativity with photos and text in a dedicated space for those formats.” The company didn’t provide any timeline of the launch, however.

Existing photos on TikTok would migrate to the new app but the user would also have the option to not share their images. An archived version of photo.tiktok.com URL reveals that one could also add a caption to the photo while sharing.

Would TikTok Notes be an Instagram Copycat?

There has been a flurry of copycat social media apps bursting onto the field, ranging from Donald Trump’s Truth Social to Meta Platforms’ Threads. Both platforms are “Twitter lookalikes” at best as they fight for relevance. As both fail to grow their user bases or engagement levels, they will continue to struggle unless they secure major shifts in the social media landscape.

Truth Social, owned by the parent company Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG), recently went public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger. Despite its market capitalization of nearly $5 billion, it barely garnered revenues of $4 million last year. For context, that’s just about the same as the average revenue that a single McDonald’s franchise made last year. Even worse, Truth Social lost $58 million last year.

Threads, which was launched with much fanfare to capitalize on the angst against Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter), seemed like it was performing incredibly well. It broke records in terms of user growth but it still could not carry the initial momentum and the bulk of its early users dropped off.

That said, in its most recent update, Meta Platforms said that Threads has 130 million active users, which is higher than the initial peak. TMTG, on the other hand, has a market cap of $5 billion despite practically making no revenues (and losing $58 million).

Copycat Products Are Not That Bad a Strategy Afterall

Even if TikTok Notes turns out to be an Instagram copycat, the ByteDance-owned company can’t be singled out for launching a “me too” product. After all, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts were clearly inspired by the popularity of TikTok’s short-form videos. Both features clearly take after TikTok’s model.

During their Q4 2023 earnings call, Alphabet, the parent company of Google and thus YouTube, said that Shorts is clocking 70 billion in daily views, and its monetization is also progressing well. Instagram’s parent company, Meta Platforms, was also quite upbeat on the performance of Reels. During its Q4 earnings call, it said that Reels are being shared 3.5 billion times daily and contribute to its net revenues across all the platforms.

With YouTube and Instagram gaining traction with platforms inspired by TikTok’s core product, it won’t be surprising to see TikTok Notes also gaining popularity, especially considering its reach among the US population.

However, the greatest risk for TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, does not come from competitors but from regulatory scrutiny.

The US is Looking to Ban TikTok

Many countries see TikTok as a national security issue amid fears that it could share data with the Chinese Communist Party. While ByteDance has denied it would ever do so, the assertion has failed to cut ice with many governments globally.

These critics have good reason to believe this as, according to Chinese law, ByteDance could be forced to assist in national intelligence efforts, likely including sending US user data to the government.

India banned TikTok in 2020 after a border clash with China while countries like the UK, Canada, and Australia have barred government employees from using TikTok.

In the US, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in August 2020 that gave TikTok 90 days to either sell its US assets to a US-based company or shut its operations in the country. However, Trump lost his election and a TikTok ban went into cold storage even as the country subsequently banned federal employees from using the app on state devices.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would force a sale of TikTok within 6 months or it would face an outright ban. Senate leaders are now trying to push the bill through the Senate. If it passes there, where Democrats hold the majority, and is signed by President Biden, it would go into law and put a timer on TikTok’s existence.

While the bill has been stalled in the Senate, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has backed calls for action against TikTok and said, “PRC influence and control has been baked in from the very beginning (in TikTok).”

Calling it a matter that deserves Congress’ “urgent attention,” McConnell added, “And I’ll support commonsense bipartisan steps to take one of Beijing’s favorite tools of coercion and espionage off the table.”

Trump Believes Facebook is Equally Dangerous

As ironic as it might sound, Trump is not wholeheartedly supporting a ban on TikTok and said in an interview with CNBC, “Frankly, there are a lot of people on TikTok that love it.” The former president instead lashed out at Facebook and called it “dishonest” and “enemy of the people.”

Trump seems to still be bitter about his Facebook ban and he clearly has his electoral fortunes in mind. He is set to run against Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential elections – and might not want to support a Biden move even if it was originally mooted by him. Some pundits have argued that he changed his tune on the ban because one of his top donors, Jeff Yass, owns a large percentage of TikTok.

As a Trump operative working on his campaign said, “He realizes that a lot of people would be upset if it were banned.”
Meanwhile, at stake are billions of dollars of digital ad dollars that social media companies rake in every month from the US. Also, a US ban could play havoc with ByteDance’s valuation, which was $268 billion at last count in December.

However, if TikTok yet again manages to evade a US ban and comes up with its Instagram competitor, Meta Platforms might have to go back to the drawing board again as competition from TikTok was among the reasons it fell out of favor with markets in 2022 and lost two-thirds of its market cap.

With Meta Platforms stock having since risen to new all-time highs, a new Instagram-like app from TikTok might be the last thing that bulls would want after the stock’s breathtaking rally over the last year.