Why did Facebook pay a GOP firm to trash its competition, TikTok?

Jason Weiland

Facebook’s parent company Meta enlisted the help of a top Republican consulting firm to orchestrate an anti-TikTok campaign.

According to The Washington Post, the company has been using an aggressive strategy to take down its biggest competitor by promoting posts that are questionable or fake. This includes placing op-eds and letters in major regional news outlets, pushing narratives about supposed TikTok trends on social media sites like Twitter where companies vie for cultural relevance.

Employees from the firm Targeted Victory are on a nationwide media and lobbying campaign to persuade Americans that TikTok is dangerous for children. Internal emails shared by The Washington Post reveal how they're trying their best to derail this app, which has grown by leaps since 2017 when it first launched inside of China-based ByteDance's company BytePark Incorporated.

Meta's rival is a popular app among teens and young adults. It has been ranked #1 in data sharing with its users. The Targeted Victory campaign operatives were encouraged by their bosses to use this prominence of Meta’s competitor as a way for them to distract from the privacy concerns at Meta. The agency works towards shaping public opinion through paid ads on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where users are usually exposed only once, over long periods of time. It seems that there might be an opportunity for success if they take the campaign into new territory - namely TikTok videos.

The emails show how Meta and its partners will use opposition-research tactics on the Chinese-owned, multibillion-dollar rival that has become one of today's most downloaded apps. In an internal report last year leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen (a former employee) Facebook researchers say teens are spending "2 - 3X more time" on TikTok than Instagram and this could be bad news for Facebook because their popularity among young people declined tremendously after releasing these findings.

When Targeted Victory asked for ideas on local political reporters who could serve as a "backchannel" to spread anti-TikTok messages, one director said they wanted it “hands-off.” But other emails said they sent out staff with instructions about pushing stories linking TikTok's supposed dangers -including that it had become “the most harmful social media app ever created."

Meta, the company behind this campaign, and others have come under fire for their tactics. They claim that all platforms should face scrutiny in accordance with how successful they are becoming. But it seems like TikTok isn’t too worried about being judged by those standards just yet - at least not until there's more information available on what really happened during these incidents involving local media.

Targeted Victory helped to enhance a reported TikTok trend called the "devious licks" challenge which showed students vandalizing school property. They pushed stories about this on local media across Massachusetts and Michigan with their work done for other states as well, such as Rhode Island and Washington DC.

When Targeted Victory heard of a “Slap a Teacher” TikTok challenge in Hawaii, they spread rumors of it on their own news station. Finally, an insider revealed that no such thing had happened and hearing this from someone else made them realize how easy it is for fake stories like these to go viral online without any fact-checking or verification whatsoever.

The “devious licks” challenge initially spread on Facebook, not TikTok. This is according to an investigation by Anna Foley at the podcast network Gimlet which found that rumors of this trend led Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) to write a letter in September calling for executives from Tik Tok to testify before his subcommittee claiming they had been "repeatedly misused and abuse [to] promote behavior leading harmful acts."

The Denver Post was contacted by the agency, Targeted Victory, which helped orchestrate a letter from an “interested” parent regarding their concerns with TikTok. The letter said that data privacy and mental health were both threatened by this app which has been downloaded onto many people's phones including children’s smartphones.

In response to a letter from Targeted Victory, an Iowa representative announced that they would be withdrawing their support for TikTok and other social media apps. This comes after Mary McAdams—the chairperson of Ankeny Area Democrats--ran similar pieces to the Denver Post in the Des Moines Register calling on people to reject Tik Tok.

Targeted Victory is a Republican digital consulting firm founded by Zac Moffatt who was responsible for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign and countless other advisory roles in politics over the years. This has come to be one of America’s most influential political operations.

The agency was even called to give testimony in Congress after the 2016 election is when it comes down right-of-center perspective they bring with them on campaigns. They can deploy field teams anywhere within 48 hours which makes this company one of if not THE biggest recipient (rivaling million-dollar spending) for campaign finance from the GOP side.

When asked about the issue of monopoly on social media, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed at TikTok instead. He said that the app is "the fastest-growing" and it will help counter any concerns people might have with his company's power over digital news feeds or content creators in general.

Facebook has spent $20 million on lobbying since 2019, more than any other company in America.

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Writer and advocate interested in mental health, health, family, culture, creativity, and success.

Los Angeles, CA

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