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To Distract Critics, Facebook Secretly Launched a Campaign Smearing Tiktok

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The company has recruited a communication agency whose mission is to give bad publicity to the Chinese social network, in order to present it as “a threat to young Americans”.

The company Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram , has called on a communication agency called Targeted Victory to launch a campaign aimed at denigrating the social network TikTok, one of its main competitors. The Washington Post , which got hold of internal Facebook emails, revealed the information on Wednesday, March 30 .

According to the exchanges consulted by the American daily, Targeted Victory presented several leads to Mark Zuckerberg’s teams to present TikTok as a “threat” to young Americans.

Some of these emails date from February 2022, shortly after Meta plummeted on the stock market announcing its loss of one million active users , a first for the social network. For its part, TikTok passed the milestone of one billion active users this summer.

In an attempt to create an anxiety-provoking image of TikTok, Meta aimed to share stories of violent and dangerous “challenges” on the platform, in the hope that these elements would be picked up by the American press.

“Do you have any examples of harmful TikTok trends in your markets?” wrote an employee of the communication agency commissioned by Meta to one of his colleagues in an internal email.

Faux challenges

To accumulate the elements that could harm TikTok, the teams of the Meta provider have notably grouped together a series of articles evoking dangerous trends on TikTok, in a document called “Bad TikTok Clips” (“bad TikTok videos”).

As the Washington Post reminds us, several challenges mentioned in these exchanges actually come from Facebook, and not from TikTok, like the “Devious licks”, a challenge which consisted in vandalizing or degrading school furniture.

But the communication teams working for Facebook have gone further, inventing challenges from scratch to better attribute them to TikTok. They thus evoked a challenge consisting of “slapping his teacher”, with the hope of repeating this rumor in the American press.

The bad press around the “Devious licks” challenge has finally found an echo with US Senator Richard Blumenthal, one of the main actors in the defense of young Americans against social networks.

The latter thus launched the initiative of a hearing of TikTok before Congress , accusing the application of having been “repeatedly used to promote dangerous and destructive actions and behavior”.

Make TikTok the “threat”

In another email, one of the communications agency’s executives clarified that the objective is to “present Meta as the scapegoat”, while presenting TikTok as “the real threat, as a foreign application which is the first in terms of collecting data from young users”.

Competition from Facebook and TikTok isn’t new, but it took on a whole new dimension during the Facebook papers , where internal reports revealed that Meta was concerned that teens were spending “2-3 times as much of time” on TikTok than on Instagram.

Andy Stone, the spokesperson for Meta, defended this communication campaign by explaining that “all social networks, including TikTok, must face attention proportional to their success”.

Such a lobbying operation is not a first for Facebook, which had already hired a communications agency in 2018 shortly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal . The company then tried to point the finger at other web giants, such as Apple or Google, to divert attention from its business.

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