Two of China’s largest online platforms are publicly accusing each other of harming their interests. According to accusations, China’s Twitter-like social platform Weibo has been blocking Douyin, a popular short video app owned by Bytedance. Bytedance also operates the largest news aggregation platform in China Jinri Toutiao or Daily Headlines.

The relationship between the two platforms has been tense for some time. In April 2017, Toutiao launched Wei Toutiao or Micro Headlines, a product that allowed users to publish content, build relationships, and get fans. Many believed that Wei Toutiao was created as a competition to Weibo. Last August, Weibo accused Jinri Toutiao’s Wei Toutiao app of illegally acquiring and using Weibo content.  At that time, Weibo suspended its cooperation with Jinri Toutiao.

The latest spat came after Weibo users reported this month that when posting links to Douyin the links would only appear to the poster and not for anyone else viewing their Weibo page or newsfeed.

“Weibo is blocking Douyin which is impacting user experience,” said Yang Jibin, senior public relations director at Jinri Toutiao at a press conference held on Tuesday about improvements to the short video app. 

Weibo’s PR director Mao Taotao hit back the same day: “Weibo is an open platform, maintaining an open attitude to all types of partners. However, following the rules is prerequisite to this. In the field of short video, Weibo maintains cooperation with competitors Kuaishou and Meipai,” as quoted by 36Kr (in Chinese).

Weibo’s Mao Taotao said that harnessing short videos is part of the platform’s game plan. One of its tactics is to cooperate with third-party platforms as it has with standard video platforms Tencent Video, Youku and iQiyi, he said.

Commentators believe Weibo initially encouraged Jinri Toutiao with a view to buying the company, but it soon became too big and turned into a threat. Douyin has also grown rapidly since the outset, acquiring over 100 million users in its first year. 

Douyin’s and Jinri Toutiao’s parent company Bytedance acquired, a highly similar app developed in the US by a Chinese team last November. The addition is a part of its ongoing plan to expand globally via acquisitions and partnerships. Douyin’s international version Tik Tok has already become successful in South Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Douyin made the accusation the same day it announced it was looking for partners worldwide.

Jinri Toutiao had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publishing.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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