Facebook is Paying a Political Consulting Firm to Smear TikTok

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Image Credit: Getty Images, Wachiwit.

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There’s the Spider-Man pointing meme. There’s the meme of comedian Tim Robinson, dressed as a hot dog, asking who crashed the hot dog car he obviously just crashed. Both of them are tried-and-true standards for any social media poster. And both of them apply here.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post published the explosive revelation that Facebook has hired a DC political consulting firm to run a national campaign to turn the public against emerging competitor TikTok. The campaign has already blamed TikTok for false rumors that originated on — where else? — Facebook.

Tik for Tat

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has plenty of reasons to fret about TikTok. Meta’s stock is down almost a third this year, wiping away $300 billion in market value, and, in February, Facebook said it lost active users for the first time. By contrast, video-based social network TikTok became the most popular website in the world last year, according to Cloudflare, usurping even Google (and all the boomers Googling “What is a TikTok?”). Meta, in leaked documents, said teens spend double to triple as much time on TikTok than on Meta-owned Instagram.

But TikTok and its owner, privately-held Chinese company ByteDance, are the subject of US security concerns over user data being held on Chinese servers and — like Instagram — concerns they spread harmful trends among youth. Facebook hired Targeted Victory, a DC consulting firm that works for politicians, to run a national stealth campaign to highlight these concerns. The campaign itself hasn’t exactly been honest:

  • Documents obtained by WaPo show Targeted Victory placed TikTok-critical editorials and letters to the editor in newspapers across the US while lobbying politicians and news organizations to scrutinize the company’s data and social practices.
  • Last year, the firm tried to spread news of a viral “Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge.” Turns out no such trend existed, and rumors of its existence originated on Facebook. Another highlighted supposed trend of students being challenged to vandalize school property was also the product of Facebook rumors.

Meta-Averse: Meta’s dwindling stock is hurting share-driven executive compensation and might as well be an internal stealth campaign against working at Facebook. The company’s chief creative officer, head of communications, head of global advertising, head of the Facebook app, head of its now-canceled stablecoin, head of virtual reality, and more have all left in less than 15 months.