Facebook reportedly funded a campaign to plant stories casting TikTok as a threat to kids and pushing headlines like 'From dances to danger'

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Facebook reportedly funded a campaign to plant stories casting TikTok as a threat to kids and pushing headlines like 'From dances to danger'
Facebook cofounder and Meta CEO Mark ZuckerbergGetty
  • Meta reportedly paid a political firm to plant negative stories about TikTok.
  • The goal, according to the Washington Post, was to turn public opinion on the popular video-sharing service.
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Facebook's parent company, Meta, paid a top political consulting firm to lead a campaign intended to turn public opinion on the increasingly popular video app, TikTok.

That's according to emails obtained by The Washington Post, which detailed a variety of means that the right-wing political firm Targeted Victory used to spread negative sentiment about TikTok.

The goal, a Targeted Victory director wrote in February, is to "get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using."

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To that end, the firm is said to have successfully placed anti-TikTok content into a variety of small and large media outlets.

Some of that content came in the form of opinion pieces or letters to the editor in regional news outlets, The Washington Post reported, and some came in the form of news that was shared nationally by mainstream publications.

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Several viral trends, for instance, were widely reported as having originated on TikTok — including the "devious licks" challenge, which encouraged students to steal various school items, and the "Slap a Teacher" challenge, which encouraged students to slap their teachers — despite having originated on Facebook.

In the emails, one Targeted Victory staff member reportedly detailed what kind of coverage Meta was looking for from media: "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,'" the email reportedly said.

When asked about the report, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told Insider, "We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success."

The CEO of the political firm paid by Facebook parent company Meta, Targeted Victory, issued a similarly unapologetic response via Twitter. "It is public knowledge we have worked with Meta for several years and we are proud of the work we have done," Zac Moffatt said on Wednesday.

Meta's two main social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram, have faced increasing competition from TikTok in recent years.

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In February, Facebook's userbase shrunk for the first time ever. At the same time, Facebook cofounder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made his company's TikTok competitor, Reels, a main priority.

TikTok — which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and has been accused of funneling user data to the Chinese government — said Meta's campaign made it "deeply concerned" about other potential consequences.

"The stoking of local media reports on alleged trends that have not been found on the platform could cause real world harm," a TikTok spokesperson said.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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