Facebook-TikTok War: Money and Fame

Asian Tech Press (Apr. 1) -- Facebook owner Meta Platforms is reportedly paying one of the biggest GOP consulting firms to smear its rival TikTok, waging a war of money and fame in the U.S.

A Republican consulting firm named Targeted Victory has pushed a nationwide campaign to smear TikTok, promoting it as "a threat to American children", The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The report said that Targeted Victory has contracted with dozens of U.S. public relations firms to "help sway public opinion against TikTok" by planting local news stories and helping to distribute op-eds against TikTok across the country, particularly in key congressional districts.

WASHPOST pointed out that the GOP firm advanced Meta's agenda by pushing news stories that blamed TikTok for dangerous online trends such as the "devious licks" challenge and the "Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge," even though the rumors actually started on Facebook.

Internal emails shared by the media outlet reveal that Targeted Victory employees worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign that portrayed the fast-growing app, which belongs to Chinese tech company ByteDance Ltd., as "a danger to American children and society."

The emails show the extent to which Meta and its partners will use opposition-research tactics against the Chinese-owned rival worth billions of dollars, the report said.

"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,' " said a campaign director from Targeted Victory.

Citing data compiled by OpenSecrets, WASHPOST said Targeted Victory was one of the biggest recipients of Republican campaign spending, earning over $237 million in 2020. And its biggest payment came from the national GOP congressional committees and America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC.

Zac Moffatt, CEO of Targeted Victory, who served as digital director for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, responded Wednesday on Twitter by saying the story "not only mischaracterizes the work we do, but key points are simply false."

"Targeted Victory's corporate practice manages bipartisan teams on behalf of our clients," Moffatt added, "It is public knowledge we have worked with Meta for several years and we are proud of the work we have done."

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone defended the campaign by saying, "We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success."

A spokesperson for TikTok said the company is "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."

In fact, this isn't the first time billionaire Mark Zuckerberg's company has used a PR firm to crack down on its rivals.

Eleven years ago, Facebook hired a prominent PR firm to try to plant stories in leading news outlets that were harshly critical of Google's privacy practices and was caught red-handed, according to the Associated Press.

In 2018, Facebook hired Definers Public Affairs, another Washington-based consulting firm founded by Republican political veterans, to slam critics and other tech giants including Apple Inc. and Google, with billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros among them.

At the time, Elliot Schrage, the longtime Facebook PR chief, left the company after being blamed for approving the hiring of companies like Definers.

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