Meta has been paying a Republican consulting firm to run an aggressive nationwide media and lobbying campaign designed to try to turn the public and legislators against TikTok, the social video platform that has eclipsed Facebook, particularly with younger consumers.
Far from denying the campaign, which was revealed by The Washington Post, Meta defended it.
“We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success,” Meta spokesperson Andy Stone told the Post.
Employees of Targeted Victory, one of the largest GOP consultancies, have been “placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping take down its biggest competitor,” according to the report.
“These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users,” it added.
The campaign seeks to present TikTok as a danger to American society and children, in part by playing on its ownership by China’s ByteDance.
In one of the emails shared with the Post, a Targeted Victory director, writing in February, noted the need to convey the message that “while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using.”
Another email alluded to the desirability of using attacks on TikTok as part of efforts to deflect the attention of state attorneys general and Congress away from their focus on addressing Meta’s privacy and antitrust issues.
The communications also allude to trying to use local reporters to “back-channel” anti-TikTok messages, and to use clips from TikTok videos to mislead media to believe that negative social media challenges, including vandalizing schools (the “devious licks” challenge) and slapping teachers, originated on TikTok.
Rumors of both challenges were actually initially spread on Facebook, according to investigations by Gimlet’s Anna Foley and Insider cited by the Post.
A TikTok spokesperson said the company is “deeply concerned” about “the stoking of local media reports on alleged trends that have not been found on the platform.”
After the story's publication, a Targeted Victory CEO told the New York Post his firm is working on "a list of points" in the Washington Post's report he claims are inaccurate or "totally wrong." He also said that WaPo itself covered some of the TikTok challenge stories the paper now says are bogus.