WeChat now appears to have Facebook -- or at least its founder -- in its crosshairs.
- By Bethany Allen-EbrahimianBethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a Tea Leaf Nation Fellow at Foreign Policy. Before joining Foreign Policy, she lived and worked in China for more than four years, including one year studying at Peking University in Beijing. Allen-Ebrahimian holds an M.A. in East Asian studies from Yale University and a graduate certificate from the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies.
Better watch out, Facebook. China’s hottest mobile messaging-cum-social media app is out on the prowl, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s 1.23 billion user global social networking empire may be in its crosshairs.
WeChat, a popular app by Chinese Internet giant Tencent that boasts more than 355 million users across the globe, has just trolled Zuckerberg in a decidedly awkward new advertisement posted on video-sharing site Youtube and evidently intended to promote the app in South Africa (where a media company, Naspers holds a stake in Tencent). The video, shown below, features a weepy Zuckerberg look-alike confessing his social media woes to a Freudian psychotherapist with a bad Austrian accent. The inexplicably randy shrink diagnoses Zuckerberg with "friendophobia" and prescribes WeChat’s Friend Radar feature, which locates nearby WeChat users, as a cure. (Facebook and Tencent did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)
Relative newcomer WeChat has already proven itself to be a fierce competitor. Its battle with the more established Weibo, China’s massive Twitter-like social media platform, has been well under way since 2012, when Weibo usage began to decline in the face of tough competition from WeChat. Weibo reported net losses of $47 million during the first quarter of 2014, though its recent successful IPO emphasizes its still-formidable position among investors. WeChat and WhatsApp, Facebook’s newly acquired messenger with more than 500 million users, have also squared off in the media boxing ring. While the majority of WeChat’s users are in China, in 2013 WeChat reported that 100 million of its user accounts were now found outside of China, primarily in India, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.
The fight for global social network dominance isn’t exactly a fair one. Facebook has been blocked on the Chinese mainland since July 2008, which persists in the face of what looks like strong netizen desire for the platform there. Even with one hand bound behind its back, Facebook is hardly the weakling of Asia; it now boasts 390 million users in the region, up from 319 million at the beginning of 2013. But if Facebook wants to keep WeChat from poaching, it might want to make sure it’s got a few more tricks up its sleeve. Finding a way to get unblocked in China would certainly help.
h/t Tech in Asia