Meta, Facebook’s parent company, paid a Republican consulting firm to run campaigns with the intention of ruining TikTok’s reputation. The full report from The Washington Post also reveals that Meta, fully aware of its “punching status” in recent times, tried to push a narrative that Tik-Tok was a threat to young audiences – especially with it being a “foreign app”.
Meta’s recent earnings report showed a decline in active users for the first time in the social network’s history. The drop was by nearly 500,000 users compared to last year. Research inside Facebook has shown that teens spend 2 to 3 more time on TikTok instead of Instagram, which Meta places as their direct competitor. The Facebook app itself has sunk in popularity among young people and is no longer competitive in that market, at least for now.
Despite Instagram’s success among teens, TikTok has surpassed it in popularity, being currently the single most popular app in the US.
Part of this campaign includes op-eds and letters to editors in major newspapers across the country, both local and major, all aiming to pose TikTok as a sort of threat to children and teens.
The consulting firm called Targeted Victory discussed a number of possible strategies to push this narrative forward. One email reveals that a director asked about potential local political reporters that could work as a medium to spread anti-TikTok messages.
There was also an effort to dig out negative trends regarding TikTok to use as fuel. An internal document entitled “Bad TikTok clips” was created for this purpose, showing potentially harmful trends adopted by teens. A recent challenge encouraged teens to vandalize school property while filming themselves, for example.
Yet after a closer study, it seems like this particular trend started on Facebook before migrating to TikTok. The same was observed regarding the “slap a teacher challenge”, which Targeted Victory tried to use as part of their campaign, but once again this trend seems to have started on Facebook, as noted by an Insider report.
Mark Zuckerberg showed interest in buying TikTok as early as 2016 when the app was first created and blew up in popularity. Zuckerberg pushed hard for purchase but it never happened. At this point, Facebook had already acquired Instagram and many changes were made to their family of apps, including the addition of the features popularized by Snapchat, now known as “Stories.”
Teen audiences started to drift away from Facebook but settled on Instagram once the short-video format similar to TikTok became the main form of sharing content. Clearly, Zuckerberg and Meta (still called Facebook at the time) saw the potential of TikTok once its popularity surged and tried to add to its family of apps.
When that didn’t work and the Chinese app continued to rise in popularity, now to the point of surpassing any of Facebook’s apps, the tune changed. Meta became hostile toward TikTok and wants to destroy it.
During the acquisition period of Instagram around 2011-2012, Instagram’s co-founder, Kevin Systrom, feared that Zuckerberg would go on “destroy mode” should he refuse to make the sale. At the time, he denied he would do such a thing, but it seems now that Kevin’s fears were correct.
And it turns out that this anti-TikTok campaign funded by Meta almost reached a major milestone in 2020, during the Trump presidency.
By focusing on Republican channels and influencers, they managed to convince then-Republican President Donald Trump that TikTok was a threat to the national supply chain of information. He signed an executive order that would prevent transactions to be made on any apps by ByteDance and confirmed he was planning on banning the app outright. The executive order ultimately didn’t move forward and was revoked by President Joe Biden in 2021.
Facebook has been accused of holding a monopoly and willfully maintaining that position through anti-competitive practices, which has already led them to court. These kinds of campaigns are common in the world of politics and Meta has proven that they’re not exactly subtle when they decide to be hostile towards a particular competitor.