Meta allegedly paid a political consulting agency to “undermine” TikTok, according to the CEO of a political consulting firm.
According to internal emails obtained by the Washington Post, Targeted Victory’s effort attempted to portray TikTok “as a menace to American children.”
The Post’s piece misrepresented their work, according to Zac Moffatt, and “major parts are plain wrong.”
“We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success,” a spokesperson for Meta said.
The “bare-knuckle” strategy allegedly includes “pushing false stories about claimed TikTok trends that actually began on Facebook” through opinion pieces and letters to the editor in US regional news sites, according to the Post journalists.
According to the article, none of the opinion pieces or letters to the editor disclosed that they were pushed by a Meta-funded group.
Mr Moffat tweeted in response to the report, saying: “The story implies that the authors did not write the letters to the editor themselves, and that they were unaware of Meta’s involvement. That is untrue. That will be confirmed by them.”
Targeted Victory allegedly pressured its partners to get reports into local media linking TikTok to dangerous tendencies in internal emails, according to the paper.
“Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger: how TikTok has become the most harmful social media space for kids’,” one Targeted Victory staff member allegedly wrote in an email apparently seen by the Post.
Targeted Victory allegedly urged agents to publicise reports of harmful TikTok trends, according to the article.
This included stories of a rumoured Slap a Teacher challenge, which an investigation by news site Insider showed did not exist, and a rumoured Devious Licks challenge, which promoted destruction to school property.
According to the Post, journalistic investigations revealed that reports about both challenges began to circulate on Facebook.
Following the publication of the video, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a significant US teaching organisation, accused Facebook of fueling the flames of Devious Licks and terrified “teachers, students, and parents throughout America as a result.”
TikTok itself reiterated these concerns.
“We are deeply concerned that the stoking of local media reports on alleged trends that have not been found on the platform could cause real world harm,” the company told the media in response to the article.
In response to the piece, technology journalist Casey Newton wrote in his newsletter Platformer that the effect extended beyond inconvenience and risked motivating individuals to take on the ostensibly difficult problems.
“Even the fact that Meta might have helped to inspire such copycats ought to have been enough to kill this project when it was still being white-boarded,” he wrote.
Moffatt claimed on Twitter that The Washington Post had reported on the alleged TikTok challenges.
Mr Moffatt said Targeted Victory handled “bipartisan teams,” despite the fact that the company advertises itself as “right-of-centre.”
Following charges that the company altered with its Trending Topics function to boost “progressive” ideas, Mr Moffatt met with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2016 as part of a group of high-profile conservative figures.
Moffatt’s work with Meta is now the focus of attention. However, this isn’t the first time that the techniques of companies hired by the social media behemoth have been questioned.
The New York Times disclosed strategies used by Definers, a public relations firm hired by Facebook, in 2018.
According to the article, the firm circulated a document falsely alleging that the investor George Soros sponsored the anti-Facebook campaign group Freedom From Facebook.
According to Zuckerberg, he was unaware of the Definers’ behaviour and that the company would no longer deal with them.
(Adapted from BBC.com)