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Facebook Paid Republican Consulting Firm for anti-TikTok Campaign: Report

The Meta-funded firm ran a campaign to place op-eds, and letters to the editor by prominent people in regional news outlets to promote questionable stories about TikTok.
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Facebook’s parent company Meta employed Targeted Victory, a Republican consulting firm, to run a campaign in the United States to malign the social media company’s competitor TikTok, according to a report by The Washington Post.

The report said that the firm ran a campaign to place op-eds, and letters to the editor by prominent people in regional news outlets to promote questionable stories on TikTok. The stories tried to protray the fast-growing Chinese app as posing a danger to the American children and society, the Washington Post reported citing internal emails accessed by the news publication. It also said that the campaign maligned TikTok based on trends that originally started on Facebook.

The report cited an email by a director of Targeted Victory that said the firm needs to spread the message that “while Meta is the current punching baf, TikTok is the real threat”, particularly because TikTok is foreign owned and yet the top app in allegedly sharing data used by young users.

Moreover, the campaign operators were motivated to use TikTok as a shield to deflect rising concerns about Meta’s data privacy and antitrust lawsuit.

The emails also reportedly show that Targeted Victory asked their partners to push for publication of stories in local media involving dangerous trends among teenagers and tying those to TikTok. 

The campaign was started as TikTok started surpassing Meta’s Facebook and Instagram in popularity, by number of downloads and time spent on the apps. 

Targeted Victory tried to amplify negative stories about TikTok through a Google document titled “Bad TikTok Clips.” The document was shared internally and had links to dubious local news stories accusing TikTok of being the breeding ground for dangerous teen trends, the report said. It added that the campaign’s local operatives were told to promote these alleged TikTok trends in their respective markets in order to pressure lawmakers.

In one instance, a letter to the editor pushed by Targeted Victory was published by Dever Post on March 12. It accused TikTok of affecting children’s mental health and raised concerns over China allegedly collecting data of young users. The same letter lent support to Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser’s move to join a coalition of state attorneys general probing TikTok’s impact on American youths, the report said.

Another such letter with negative stories about TikTok was published on the same day in the Des Moines Register, and was signed by Mary McAdams, chair of the Ankeny Area Democrats, the report said.

The emails accessed by the Washington Post purportedly showed that Targeted Victory pushed its anti-TikTok content without revealing that it came from a firm working for Meta. None of the op-eds or letters to the editor disclosed that the Meta-funded firm was involved in them.

The Washington Post further reported that some of the emails targeting TikTok were sent in February this year, soon after Meta announced that Facebook lost its users for the first time in its 18-year history. Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg had told investors then that TikTok was a major obstacle. Meanwhile, Meta started a TikTok clone on Instagram, known as Reels -- a short video feature promoted heavily by the app.

According to the report, Targeted Victory is one of the biggest recipients of r Republican campaigns. Spendings. In 2020, the firm earned over $230 million, and its largest clients were from groups like the pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, according to OpenSecrets.

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

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