Report: Facebook paid a Republican consulting firm to malign TikTok

In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020 in Washington, DC.
In this photo illustration, the TikTok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on August 7, 2020 in Washington, DC. Photo credit Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A new report has found that Meta, the parent company for Facebook, is attempting to turn the public against TikTok via a nationwide campaign.

Facebook has reportedly hired Targeted Victory, one of the nation's largest Republican consulting firms, to lead the campaign, the Washington Post reported.

In the effort to turn the public against the video platform, the campaign has placed op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting alleged stories of dangerous TikTok trends. However, some of the trends either don't exist or were started on Facebook.

According to the report, Facebook's plan is to have local politicians and political reporters help take down one of its biggest competitors.

Targeted Victory has been working to undermine TikTok and portray the app as a danger to American children and society, according to emails the Post reviewed, done through the nationwide lobbying and media campaign.

The firm has been expressing the danger of TikTok being that it is a "foreign-owned" app owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance.

In a February email, a director at Targeted Victory wrote that the firm 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."

Targeted Victory declined to answer any questions on the campaign the Post asked but said that it had represented Meta for several years.

The emails show how Meta is using opposition-research tactics on TikTok, which has become even more popular in some cases than Facebook or Instagram.

Last year, Frances Haugen leaked an internal report showing that teens were spending upwards of three times the amount of time on TikTok than on Instagram. It also showed that the popularity of Facebook among young people has plummeted.

A spokesperson for Meta, Andy Stone, said that "We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success," when asked about the campaign, the Post reported.

The report from the Post showed that the firm used several different tactics, from saving negative TikToks on a Google document named "Bad TikTok Clips" to emailing local news organizations asking them to cover negative trends kids were doing, citing TikTok as the origin of them.

The report even said that local operatives with the firm were encouraged to promote the alleged TikTok trends, like the "devious licks" challenge that had students stealing from their schools, in their own markets, pressuring lawmakers to act.

The firm pushed the trend in local media across Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Washington D.C.

While Targeted Victory worked to discredit TikTok and turn the public against it, the firm also gave Facebook "proactive coverage" by sharing the platform's efforts to support Black-owned businesses and other work it is doing in the community.

The firm did this by sending letters and opinion pieces to local radio stations, newspapers, and TV broadcasts. However, they failed to mention Meta funded the firm's involvement.

As TikTok continues to be the "fastest-growing app," to quote Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the war over social media continues to wage on, with once-dominant sites like Instagram and Facebook losing their spot atop the pedestal.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Illustration by Drew Angerer/Getty Images