Meta's long-running fight against TikTok may have gotten dirty. The Washington Post has obtained emails it says reveal that Facebook's parent company is paying the major political consulting firm Targeted Victory to run a smear campaign against TikTok. The initiative reportedly promoted dodgy local news stories, opinion pieces and letters to the editor blaming TikTok for harmful teen behavior, whether or not it was truly responsible.
The aim was to position TikTok as the "real threat" in the public eye, prompting politicians to crack down on the social media firm while simultaneously promoting Facebook's worth. This included speculation TikTok might share data with China. The strategy was apparently effective — Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter in September 2021 asking TikTok executives to testify for a subcommittee for allegedly fostering a vandalism challenge whose rumors first circulated on Facebook.
We've asked Meta for comment. In a statement to The Post, company spokesperson Andy Stone justified the campaign by claiming that every platform should "face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success." Targeted Victory didn't address the anti-TikTok campaign, but said it was "proud" of serving Met for several years. TikTok, meanwhile, was "deeply concerned" about the promotion of local news reports that incorrectly blamed it for hurtful trends.
A campaign like this wouldn't be completely surprising. Meta doggedly pursues rivals that could undermine its core businesses, to the point where it mimics key features. And TikTok is one of the biggest rivals — leaked documents from Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that teens were spending up to "2-3X" more of their time on that social platform than Instagram. In theory, trashing TikTok's reputation would not only steer some of those users toward Meta's products, but limit its ability to compete in the first place.