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Facebook funded anti-TikTok campaign through GOP firm

Targeted Victory ran a nationwide effort to ruin TikTok’s reputation

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has been paying one of the most prominent Republican consulting firms to run a nationwide campaign to sow distrust about one of the company’s top competitors, TikTok, according to a new report from The Washington Post on Wednesday.

The firm, Targeted Victory, reportedly planted op-eds and letters to the editor in major local and regional newspapers across the country. A Targeted Victory director told staff that the firm needed 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,” according to emails obtained by The Post.

News of Facebook’s decision to hire the firm comes only a few weeks after the company declared that it was losing users for the first time in its 18-year history. Meta’s recent earnings report said that Facebook’s active users dropped by almost 500,000 at the end of last year.

Several of Targeted Victory’s op-eds contained links to negative news coverage about TikTok and were often bylined by influential community figures and politicians, including Democrats. The Post reported that none of the columns disclosed their connection to the Facebook-funded firm.

Over the last few years, Facebook has been under fire by Congress for allegedly holding an illegal monopoly in the social media industry. During a 2020 hearing with tech CEOs, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, lawmakers cited internal company documents suggesting that Zuckerberg would go “destroy mode” if Instagram, a then-nascent competitor, refused to be sold to the social media giant.

“When the dominant platform threatens its potential rivals, that should not be a normal business practice,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said at the time.

Targeted Victory is one of the biggest vendors for Republican campaigns. In 2020, the firm earned over $230 million, and its largest clients were from groups like the pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action. Republicans have been some of TikTok’s harshest critics. Lawmakers like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have pushed for the app to be investigated for censorship, and former President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban it outright.

Ultimately, the order went nowhere, and President Joe Biden revoked it last year.