Reports Say Facebook Paid Firm To Defame Rival, Tiktok

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Facebook parent company Meta has allegedly paid one of the biggest Republican consulting firms, Targeted Victory, to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok, a report by Washington Post stated.

According to the report, employees of Targeted Victory worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying the fast-growing app, owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, as a danger to American children and society.

“The campaign includes 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.

“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,” the report partly reads.

In an email by a director for the firm, “Targeted Victory needs to get the message out 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.”

Also, campaign operatives were encouraged to use TikTok’s prominence as a way to deflect from Meta’s own privacy and antitrust concerns.

“Bonus point if we can fit this into a broader message that the current bills/proposals aren’t where [state attorneys general] or members of Congress should be focused,” a Targeted Victory staffer wrote.

Meanwhile, the hired firm, Targeted Victory refused to respond to questions filed by the Washington Post about the campaign, saying only that it has represented Meta for several years and is “proud of the work we have done.”

Targeted Victory was said to have urged partners to push stories to local media tying TikTok to dangerous teen trends in an effort to show the app’s purported harms. “Any local examples of bad TikTok trends/stories in your markets?” a Targeted Victory staffer asked.

“Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger: how TikTok has become the most harmful social media space for kids,’” the staffer wrote.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone defended the campaign by saying, “We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success.”

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.”

Washington Post reports that Targeted Victory worked to amplify negative TikTok coverage through a Google document titled “Bad TikTok Clips,” which was shared internally and included links to dubious local news stories citing TikTok as the origin of dangerous teen trends.

Local operatives working with the firm were encouraged to promote these alleged TikTok trends in their own markets to put pressure on lawmakers to act.

Targeted Victory also contracted with dozens of public relations firms across the United States to help sway public opinion against TikTok. In addition to planting local news stories, the firm has helped place op-eds targeting TikTok around the country, especially in key congressional districts.

On March 12, a letter to the editor that Targeted Victory officials helped orchestrate ran in the Denver Post. The letter, from a “concerned” “new parent,” claimed that TikTok was harmful to children’s mental health, raised concerns over its data privacy practices and said that “many people even suspect China is deliberately collecting behavioural data on our kids.”

The letter also issued support for Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s choice to join a coalition of state attorneys general investigating TikTok’s impact on American youths, putting political pressure on the company.

A very similar letter to the editor, drafted by Targeted Victory, ran that same day in the Des Moines Register. The piece linked to negative stories about TikTok that Targeted Victory had previously sought to amplify. The letter was signed by Mary McAdams, chair of the Ankeny Area Democrats. Targeted Victory touted McAdams’ credentials in an email on March 7.

“[McAdams’s] name on this [letter to the editor] will carry a lot of weight with legislators and stakeholders,” a Targeted Victory director wrote. The email then encouraged partners across other states to look for opportunities to add to the campaign, “especially if your state AG suddenly joins on.”

The report further quoted emails showing how the firm has effectively promoted its anti-TikTok messaging without revealing that it came from a firm working on Meta’s behalf. None of the op-eds or letters to the editor were published with any indication that the Meta-funded group had been involved.

Launched as a Republican digital consulting firm by Zac Moffatt, a digital director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, Targeted Victory has routinely advised Facebook officials over the years, including during a high-profile congressional hearing after the 2016 election.

Meanwhile, the firm is one of the biggest recipients of Republican campaign spending, earning more than $237 million in 2020, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets. Its biggest payments came from national GOP congressional committees and America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC.

Some of the emails targeting TikTok were sent in February, shortly after Meta announced that Facebook had lost users for the first time in its 18-year history.

Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told investors then that TikTok was a major obstacle, saying, “People have a lot of choices for how they want to spend their time, and apps like TikTok are growing very quickly.”

The company has unveiled a TikTok clone, a short-video feature called Reels, and promotes it heavily in its Instagram app.

The anti-TikTok campaign follows in a long line of Facebook-funded advocacy groups working to boost its standing in the public eye.

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