Facebook Paid GOP Firm to Make TikTok Look Harmful

Facebook Paid GOP Firm to Make TikTok Look Harmful

by Kenna McCafferty

Remember the “devious licks” trend that had students stealing toilet seats and vandalizing school property, or the “slap a teacher” challenge (which feels pretty self-explanatory)? These “negative TikTok” trends gained popularity in the mainstream media, opening a conversation around "the dangers of TikTok," despite having originated on Facebook.

In emails obtained by The Washington Post, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, detailed a plan coordinated alongside the right-wing political firm Targeted Victory to spread negative sentiment about TikTok, Meta’s main competitor.

As the Targeted Victory director wrote in February, the goal was 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.”

This was achieved through a robust campaign to undermine TikTok through lobbying and conversations in the media which presented TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, as a danger to American youth and society.

The campaign included efforts to disseminate “Bad TikTok Clips” from the “devious licks” challenge published in local media across Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Washington, DC which waterfall into Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) writing a letter calling TikTok executives to testify to how the app “repeatedly misused and abused to promote behavior and actions that encourage harmful and destructive acts.”

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told Insider, “We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success.”

“Devious licks,” however, according to Gimlet’s Anna Foley, started on Facebook, before spreading to TikTok. The same is true for the “slap a teacher” TikTok challenge, which received local pickup in Hawaii, but was revealed by Insider, to be a Facebook trend, taking it a step beyond the pot calling the kettle black.

According to the emails, the “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 CEO of Targeted Victory doubled down in a Twitter thread, denying “key points” of The Washington Post’s article, adding, “it is public knowledge we have worked with Meta for several years and we are proud of the work we have done.”

A spokesperson from TikTok, meanwhile, shared that the Beijing-based company is “deeply concerned” about the consequences of Facebook’s campaign.

"The stoking of local media reports on alleged trends that have not been found on the platform could cause real world harm.”

Unfortunately, the real-world consequences were felt by schools across the country (and teachers’ faces).

Photo via Getty/ Jakub Porzycki/ NurPhoto