TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has launched a new social media site called Lemon8, amid federal and state efforts to ban or restrict TikTok in the country over national security concerns.
In the days after TikTok’s CEO was grilled by Congress for the first time, many TikTok users began posting about an alternative platform called Lemon8, sometimes with eerily similar language.
Multiple creators described the app as being like “if Pinterest and Instagram had a baby, with TikTok’s algorithm.” Some compared it to TikTok circa 2020 and encouraged other influencers to join the app before it grows. They also asked followers to share their Lemon8 usernames in the comments.
As it turned out, the app wasn’t just a random alternative to TikTok. Lemon8 is a social media platform launched in the United States earlier this year by TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance amid federal and state efforts to ban or restrict TikTok in the country over national security concerns.
The similarities in the videos comparing the new service to Instagram and Pinterest, which were posted by both English and Spanish-speaking creators, raised questions about whether people were being paid to promote the new app on TikTok. But despite that speculation — and the mounting scrutiny on TikTok and ByteDance — a growing number of US users and influencers are now eagerly touting Lemon8, with its focus on photos and highly curated, informational or “aspirational” content.
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“We have to talk about TikTok’s new sister app,” a creator said in one such video.
“I’ve seen a lot of bigger content creators that I love on it and promoting it on their Instagram stories, so I thought, ‘okay, it’s my time to hop on this bandwagon,’” said Melanie Cruz, who got her start creating content as a YouTube vlogger in high school around 2018. “I like that it’s something simple, it’s nothing too in your face … it’s not overwhelming.”
Lemon8 has been downloaded just over one million times in the United States since it became available on US app stores in February, and had around half a million daily active US users last month, according to intelligence platform Apptopia.
The early traction for Lemon8 hints at the whack-a-mole challenge lawmakers could face in reining in TikTok and other social media platforms. It also carries some hints of TikTok’s own rise, which was reportedly fueled in part by ByteDance spending heavily to advertise the service on rival platforms Facebook and Snapchat. This time, however, the best place to promote the next TikTok may be on TikTok itself.
The New York Times reported last month that ByteDance had begun early marketing efforts for Lemon8 that included working with influencers. Now, some creators featured on Lemon8’s “for you” feed appear to be disclosing their work with the company using the hashtag #Lemon8Partner in their captions.
A ByteDance company source said that Lemon8 is still in its early days and testing how to work with creators. They said ByteDance has not launched any formal marketing efforts for Lemon8, but in some cases has made deals to pay creators to post on the platform. However, they denied rumors that ByteDance had paid creators to promote the new app on TikTok.
ByteDance has also recently listed open jobs for Lemon8 creator partnerships roles, according to postings viewed by CNN. “Lemon8 is a social media platform committed to building a diverse and inclusive community where people can discover new content and creators every day,” the job postings read.
Jack Dorsey, along with Jeremie Miller, the inventor of the communication protocol Jabber/XMPP, and Jay Graber, CEO of Bluesky, are board members creating the Twitter alternative Bluesky.