Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, reportedly hired a massive Republican digital consulting agency to run a campaign that would turn the public and lawmakers against rival TikTok.
The Washington Post reports that Targeted Victory's plan to turn public opinion against TikTok involved strategically planting negative stories in major regional news outlets about dangerous and harmful TikTok trends.
This involved sending letters to the editor from "concerned parents" calling lawmakers to investigate the app's effects on the mental health of children, while talking about how ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, collects user data.
All this highlights another talking point the firm pushed as Meta was seemingly trying to find ways to deflect from its recent privacy and antitrust woes. An email from the director told agency 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 number 1 in sharing data that young teens are using."
The firm even went as far as putting together a Google doc titled "Bad TikTok Clips" which included links to shady local news stories in order to establish that TikTok was the originator of these bad trends, despite the fact that they were allegedly started on Facebook as a hoax, like the "Slap a teacher challenge" which was said to be going on in Hawaii.
Another was the "devious licks challenge", which also allegedly started on Facebook and was covered by major news outlets such as CNN. This challenge was said to encourage teens to steal or vandalize school property.
If you're wondering what sort of effect a campaign like this has on a company, back in September Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wrote a letter to TikTok calling to testify in front of a sub-committee, stating the app had "repeatedly misused and abused to promote behavior and actions that encourage harmful and destructive acts."
Meta has said that it sees TikTok as a major rival, that Instagram and Facebook's popularity among young people is at a low, and that TikTok is used 2-3x more often than Instagram.
Meta spokesperson Andy Stone essentially confirms the campaign, saying “We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success.”