ByteDance Pushes Lemon8, a Possible Instagram Competitor

Despite threats by U.S. lawmakers to ban popular social video app TikTok, parent company ByteDance continues to drive its apps to the top of the charts. The Chinese company’s latest hit is Lemon8, described as a rival to Instagram that serves a “lifestyle community.” As of Monday, Lemon8 was No. 10 across apps and games in the U.S. App Store’s Top Charts. On Tuesday it climbed to No. 9 among apps. The video- and photo-sharing app was launched internationally in March 2020, but ByteDance appears to have taken a new interest in promoting it. Last month, media outlets reported the company was paying influencers to post on it.

Having a second successful U.S. app could deflect some of the regulatory glare from TikTok, perhaps giving ByteDance’s controversial viral app an air of inevitability. The Beijing-based tech firm has also been touting an editing app called CapCut, which also enjoyed breakout success in the U.S. this month.

The New York Times reports that ByteDance has hired marketing companies that as of last week were sending influencers messages, including one that said “ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, invites you to become a launching creator on their new Lemon8 platform before it officially rolls out in the United States!” TikTok has accrued 150 million U.S. users, according to NYT, which says “ByteDance appears eager to replicate its success with Lemon8.”

Prior to this week, Lemon8 had never even cracked the U.S. Top 200 Overall Charts, according to TechCrunch, which couched it as “a dramatic move” and cited “paid user acquisition” fueling the surge. The outlet expressed concern that “over on TikTok, we noticed a number of creators recently began posting about Lemon8, with many new videos appearing in just the past 24 hours.”

Many of those notices “are extremely positive but are not marked as sponsored content,” TechCrunch adds, offering by way of example a creator named Gabrielle Victor telling her followers, “It’s like Pinterest and Instagram came together and had a baby.”

But Gizmodo writes “ByteDance’s Lemon8 app is like if Instagram were all ads.” Signing on, Lemon8 users see select topics of interest — such as food, fashion, fitness. “The main page includes a ‘following’ and ‘for you’ tab ala TikTok, but the feed itself is very Instagram-like while other pages relate to several broad topics,” Gizmodo expounds. Some posts offer how-tos, like “styling a denim skirt.”

Vice points out that “although both the app’s listing on the App Store and the app itself lists a private Singapore-based company called Heliophilia Pte. Ltd as its parent,” NYT and others refer to Lemon8 as part of the ByteDance social media portfolio. Heliophilia (the name means “attracted to sunlight”) was incorporated in May 2022.

“It has to do with gathering information on users and it has the same ownership structure, being a child of ByteDance, so I think the same issues are going to come up,” said Lindsay Gorman, senior fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.

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