Facebook’s parent company Meta has contracted one of the country’s largest Republican consulting firms to choreograph a nationwide smear campaign against TikTok, The Washington Post reports.
The campaign has successfully placed op-eds and letters to the editor in major newspapers, spread unfounded rumors that damaging Facebook trends began on TikTok instead, and won the support of one apparently unwitting Democrat senator, all while exposing how deeply intertwined Meta has become with GOP politics.
The Republican firm, Targeted Victory, was described in 2016 as “the GOP’s go-to technology consultant firm,” with a track record at the time of successfully boosting Ted Cruz’s national profile. Its website advertises a “hyperlocal” approach to politics, which can be seen in the astroturfed newspaper op-eds, one of which ran in The Denver Post.
In a March 21st letter to the editor titled “Protect kids from TikTok’s mental health harms,” a “new parent” wrote, “It’s time we take a serious look at what harm TikTok is having on their mental health. The company has proven to have little to no consideration on how our children’s data is being used, and by whom. Many people even suspect China is deliberately collecting behavioral data on our kids (the Chinese government and TikTok deny that they share data). We should all be alarmed at the grave consequences these privacy issues present.”
A nearly identical letter, also drafted by Targeted Victory, was published that same day in The Des Moines Register. Company emails viewed by The Washington Post found Targeted Victory boasting about getting a Democrat party operative to sign their name on the letter to The Des Moines Register, as well as the process by which they were readied.
An email sent last week told the teams to “be prepared to share the op-ed they’re working on right now.” A TV representative wrote, “Colorado and Iowa — Can you talk about the TikTok Op-eds you both got?”
According to one director at the company, the goal 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.”