Tencent sues Toutiao for alleged defamation, demands 1 yuan and apology

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese social media giant Tencent Holdings on Friday said it is suing two companies under domestic rival Toutiao for alleged defamation, escalating its growing feud with the firm behind what is currently the world’s most downloaded iPhone app.

FILE PHOTO: A Tencent sign is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Toutiao, also known as Bytedance Technology, is one of China’s fastest-growing tech start-ups. It has threatened Tencent’s dominance in social media and online entertainment with its hugely popular news aggregator app Jinri Toutiao and short video app Tik Tok, also known as Douyin in Chinese.

Tik Tok, especially popular among young people for its quirky videos, was the most downloaded app in the Apple app store globally in the last quarter.

In a WeChat post, Tencent said it is suing in a Beijing court the two Toutiao units running Jinri Toutiao and Tik Tok, alleging they had repeatedly defamed Tencent in the past month with negative news and damaged its reputation.

Tencent alleged Toutiao had intentionally tweaked a state media report’s headline and sourcing unfavorably in a push alert on Wednesday and seriously damaged its reputation.

Toutiao did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Demanding compensation of one yuan ($0.16) and public apologies on Toutiao’s social media platforms, Tencent said it is also suspending collaboration with the two companies as their behavior “constituted unfair competition and infringed (Tencent’s) rights”.

Toutiao’s Douyin last month sued Tencent, accusing it of spreading false and damaging information on its WeChat platform and seeking 1 million yuan ($155,000) in compensation and an apology.

Tencent said at the time that it had acted appropriately and would not fear to respond to any lawsuit.

Venture-backed Toutiao, valued at more than $30 billion according to sources, is aggressively emerging as one of the few Chinese tech start-ups independent from the juggernauts Tencent, Baidu Inc and Alibaba Holdings.

Reporting by Sijia Jiang; Additional Reporting by Kane Wu; Editing by Dale Hudson