Facebook owner Meta has hired a consultancy to run a US campaign smearing its fierce rival TikTok, according to a Washington Post report on Wednesday partially confirmed by AFP.
The campaign would include sending letters to major US news outlets and promoting negative stories on TikTok, allegedly using the kind of tough tactics familiar with Washington politics.
Meta, which lost hundreds of billions of dollars earlier this year due to doubts about its future, is in an uphill battle against the video-sharing platform popular with young social media fans.
“We believe that all platforms, including TikTok, should be given the scrutiny consistent with their growing success,” Meta told AFP in a one-line statement in response to the article.
The consultancy, Targeted Victory, confirmed that it worked for Meta and did not deny highlighting negative information about TikTok.
“We’re proud of the work we’ve done to highlight the dangers of TikTok,” company CEO Zac Moffatt tweeted.
Targeted Victory employees worked to undermine TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, by promoting an effort to portray it as a danger to American children, the Post reported, citing internal emails from the company.
The Post quoted a message saying that Targeted Victory needed to “send the message that if Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat, especially as a foreign app that’s #1 in data sharing. that young teenagers use”.
One effort reportedly involved getting parents to sign letters expressing their concerns that were submitted to US newspapers, some of which published them.
Targeted Victory also alerted elected officials and journalists to alleged trends on TikTok that encouraged students to vandalize their school premises, known as “sneaky licks” or the “slap a teacher” challenge.
The ‘challenge’ for young users to lash out at teachers didn’t start on TikTok, but on Facebook, according to an investigation by the ‘Reply All’ podcast, with the investigator not finding any videos on the subject on Tik Tok.
“We are deeply concerned that feeding local media reports on alleged trends that were not found on the platform could cause real-world harm,” TikTok told AFP. in a press release.
Moffatt, the CEO of Targeted Victory, also argued that the Post article “misrepresents the work we do,” citing examples including characterizing the people who signed the letters sent to newspapers.
“History infers that the words of the letters to the editor were not the authors’ own, and that they were unaware of Meta’s involvement. This is untrue,” he said. he tweeted.
Contacted by AFP, the people cited as signatories to the latter did not respond to requests for comment.