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Daily Drip

Tencent Sues Toutiao for 1RMB as Tech Rivals’ Battle Heats Up

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The public war of words between WeChat operator Tencent and Tik-Tok (Douyin) and Toutiao owning rival Bytedance has escalated in the last couple of days with the former now announcing (via a WeChat post of course) that it is suing the former in a Beijing court for defamation. The damages sought? 1RMB ($0.15).

The two sides have been sparring in public for a while now, but this latest incident has arisen from a news story pushed by aggregation app Toutiao which Tencent says carried a wilfully negative and inaccurately attributed headline.

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A report from Xinhuanet.com seemingly implying that Tencent wasn’t doing enough to protect young people from potentially harmful effects in online gaming was allegedly pushed out by Toutiao as being sourced from the more powerful and impactful Xinhua News Agency. Toutiao had reportedly pushed the original story with correct attribution, only to then pick up a Baidu News version of the story which claimed Xinhua News Agency as the source.

But rather than turn their ire on Baidu, Tencent have apparently decided to use this issue to escalate their ongoing battle with Toutiao, issuing a statement yesterday that demanded a public apology and 1RMB compensation.

The tech giant also announced it would be ceasing all forms of “cooperation” with Toutiao and Douyin, to which Douyin issued a rather pithy response.

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In a post sent out via, you guessed it, their official WeChat account, Douyin told followers, “WeChat is hardworking! Friends, let’s meet on Douyin”. The post went on to highlight a number of incidents from the past few months that, as the Toutiao-owned brand saw it, limited Douyin’s capabilities on WeChat, including the apparent blocking of links. Douyin then asked whether this was the “cooperation” which Tencent had now declared it was suspending.

The post then appeared to try and draw a line under such issues by wishing WeChat luck and saying that from now on Douyin would leave WeChat’s Moments to hosting WeChat’s own short video clips. “Douyin is tired too. Every time one of these blocks happen it gets labelled as a ‘drama’. Wars of words are so meaningless, Douyin just wants to continue allowing you to record your beautiful lives, to accompany you through good times and bad.”

Having played to its loyal fanbase, the supportive comments flooded in, with the top-rated message being “I don’t have anything to say, just one sentence: always with Douyin!”.

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Despite attempts to take the high ground on this occasion, Douyin announced just last month that it was suing Tencent, accusing it of spreading “false and damaging information”. The damages sought in that case were 1 million RMB, which may well have informed Tencent’s decision to take Toutiao to court for 1RMB over this latest incident. The top-rated comment on Tencent’s statement on the case praises the move as “beautifully done”.

With Toutiao and Douyin’s sky-rocketing popularity and their apparent attempts to muscle in on an online landscape dominated by Tencent, Alibaba, and Baidu, this probably won’t be the last “drama” we witness involving these parties.

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Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.