April 4, 2022
In today’s blog post, I wanted to talk about something that piqued my interest this week. According to The Washington Post, Meta – the parent company that owns Facebook and Instagram – has hired political campaign group Targeted victory to run a disinformation campaign about its newest competitor, TikTok
According to the Washington Post article:
“Targeted Victory [was hired 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.”
Everyone knows about TikTok by now but for the few uninitiated are some stats. TikTok, known as Douyin in China is owned by ByteDance Ltd. It was launched in 2016 and boasted, at the end of 2021, 1.2 billion active users. You can read more about the company here.
Targeted victory used local media in the U.S to seed bogus stories of harmful TikTok challenges to try and prompt a backlash against the app.
“In October, Targeted Victory worked to spread rumours of the ‘Slap a Teacher TikTok Challenge’ in local news, touting a local news report on the alleged challenge in Hawaii. In reality, no such challenge existed on TikTok.”
There has indeed been a rash of harmful or anti-social challenges cropping up organically
across the app in recent years, where the combination of instant shareability and a very young and impressionable demographic make for an incendiary mix. Just late last year, Tiktok saw a wave of Squid-game inspired challenges. Children were hospitalised trying to mimic the deadly feats depicted on the show. In response to such concerns, TikTok has undertaken efforts to curb the instance of such dangerous challenges.
However, this new information shines a light onto such widely reported crazes. Could it all just have been corporate skulduggery? Meta has yet to comment on the findings of the newest Washington Post story, but it’s hardly surprising considering their recent track record.
In 2019, Mark Zuckerberg met with various US senators to make his case as to the untrustworthiness of TikTok. As per this WSJ story, he pointed out their connections and obligations to the Chinese government emphasising the threat Chinese internet companies pose to US business interests.
A month after these meetings, the US government announced a national security investigation into TikTok and Donald Trump, then POTUS tried to force TikTok under US ownership.
So, what does this mean for Meta and Targeted Victory? It is perturbing to see any company’s founder try to use their political clout to influence their main competitor, but for one with such wide-ranging control of information and news sources to do so is unacceptable, in my opinion.
This is not the first time the Social media Giant has used the political consultancy, nor will it be its last. The company has long been ruthless in its ambition to dominate the market – so much so in fact, that it is facing antitrust cases, since its acquisition of both Instagram and Whatsapp.
In this most recent issue, Meta’s spokesman has said that TikTok should come under a level of scrutiny in line with its success.
This is an ongoing story, and one definitely worth keeping an eye on. It’s a reminder the social media has real-world implications and isn’t all just cute dog pics and people’s lunches