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Facebook targets TikTok in public smear campaign

Facebook has a new target for the public smear campaigns that the company has used to target its rivals and detractors (including, most infamously, George Soros): but this time, the target is TikTok, which recently supplanted Google and FB as the world’s most popular website.

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Facebook parent company Meta has paid one of the country’s largest GOP-linked consulting firms to orchestrate a nation-wide campaign to try and ‘turn public opinion against TikTok’. The company’s strategy has included deflecting blame to TikTok for certain ‘problematic’ trends that actually began on Facebook, while generating op-eds and letters to the editor from “concerned parents” (who were actually just fronts for the company’s campaign). Here’s the Washington Post – which cited internal emails between Meta and Targeted Victory, the aforementioned opposition-research and public opinion firm, with more:

The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping take down its biggest competitor. These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users.

Targeted Victory eventually ended up leading a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying TikTok as a danger to American children and society, while using their criticism of TikTok to “deflect” from criticisms about Meta’s privacy concerns, with the aim of inspiring Congress to shift its focus away from Meta and toward TikTok.

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The effort was ultimately successful, prompting CT Sen. Richard Blumenthal to demand that ByteDance executives testify to a Senate subcommittee about TikTok’s role in certain “dangerous” (and largely overhyped) TikTok trends like the “devious licks” and “slap a teacher” challenges. The company also subcontracted with a number of PR firms across the US to get “letters to the editor” from “concerned parents” into newspapers around the country, including one that ran in the Denver Post and the Des Moines Register. One email showed the firm asking its ‘partners’ to share details of anti-TikTok op-eds that they were supposed to be working on.

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Of course, Facebook isn’t alone in trying to raise concerns about TikTok. The app has faced justifiable criticism for the proliferation of highly sexualized content, as well as content glorifying violence and drug abuse – with small doses of pro-Chinese propaganda thrown in for good measure.

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By Cleo

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