Facebook paid a right-wing consulting firm to discredit TikTok, according to a new report.
Accordingly The Washington PostFacebook’s parent company, Meta, hired a company called Targeted Victory to publish negative articles and letters about the Chinese app in major newspapers.
According to corporate emails received from the post OfficeTargeted Victory called on its staff to “spread the message that while Meta is the punching bag of the day, TikTok is the real threat, especially as a foreign app that’s #1 in data-sharing young teens are using.”
TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, has become a fierce competitor to Facebook. Last year, TikTok overtook Facebook and even Google as the most visited website in the world, and the app itself has at times received more downloads than Facebook or Instagram (also owned by Meta). Meanwhile, Facebook has inflicted bleeding on users.
So it’s perhaps no wonder that Meta is taking extreme measures to fight back – but this latest tactic is more typical of politics than technology. Targeted Victory began as an advisor to Republican candidates and still raises hundreds of millions of dollars from GOP campaigns. The CEO, Zac Moffatt, was digital director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.
Well, according to emails the post Office dug up, the company works for Facebook. The report paints a picture of a persistent campaign to hurt TikTok’s image in the news and to distract attention from Facebook’s own problems wherever possible.
“Bonus point if we can fit this into a broader message that the current bills/proposals aren’t there [state attorneys general] or members of Congress should focus,” a Targeted Victory staffer wrote to other staffers.
“Any local examples of bad TikTok trends/stories in your markets?” asked another. “The dream would be to have stories with headlines like ‘From Dance to Danger: How TikTok Has Become the Most Harmful Social Media Space for Kids.'”
According to the post Office, the company even managed to circulate a rumor that a “Slap a Teacher” challenge had surfaced on TikTok, prompting alarmed warnings from schools, the police and local news outlets. However, according to an Insider report, the challenge never happened and rumors about it started on Facebook.
In an email to The Independentthe CEO of Targeted Victory defended his company.
“Targeted Victory’s corporate practice manages multiparty teams on behalf of our clients,” said Mr. Moffatt. “It is well known that we have been working with Meta for several years and we are proud of the work we have done.”
The CEO also denounced this Post report in a Twitter threadthat Targeted Victory’s teams are bipartisan, the rumors about TikTok came from outside news sources, and the company has been open about Meta’s involvement in the letters it sent to newspaper editors.
“Today’s ones Washington Post Not only does the story mischaracterize our work, but the key points are simply wrong,” wrote Mr. Moffatt. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done to expose the dangers of TikTok.”
A spokesman for Meta also defended the campaign.
“We believe that all platforms, including TikTok, should be subjected to a level of scrutiny commensurate with their growing success,” said Andy Stone, representative of Meta post Office.