Meta Collaborates With Political Activists To Raise Concerns About Tiktok
If you were on the fence about how much of a threat TikTok poses to Facebook, this should help you make up your mind. The Washington Post revealed that Facebook and Instagram's parent company Meta engaged political campaigning firm Targeted Victory to undertake a smear campaign against the increasingly popular short-form video app, which is both shocking and not at the same time.
According to the report:
“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.”
“In October, Targeted Victory worked to spread rumors 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.”
Meta has been collaborating with Targeted Victory to sow concerns about TikTok, mostly through local news sites in the United States. To amplify reaction against the app, such efforts appear to have included generating detrimental trends via challenges and memes.
As you may recall, TikTok was obliged to impose tougher measures against dangerous challenges late last year, following reports of injuries suffered by users who participated. Now you have to question if those reports were true, and how much of an impact TikTok had on them.
The findings that Meta is attempting to discredit TikTok are noteworthy – and it's worth noting that Meta hasn't refuted the Post's claims. But they're also consistent with what we know about Meta's previous efforts to sway public opinion against the short-form video app.
According to a new revelation from the Wall Street Journal, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with US officials in late 2019 to express his concerns about TikTok's ties to the Chinese government.
Zuckerberg spoke with multiple lawmakers, highlighting TikTok's responsibilities and linkages, and he made the same case to then-US President Donald Trump during a private dinner, stressing the threat that Chinese internet giants pose to American enterprises.
In October 2019, Zuckerberg conducted several meetings, and a month later, the US Government announced a national security inquiry into TikTok, which finally led to the Trump Administration's failed attempt to push TikTok under US control.
Given that Meta has previously pushed to amplify similar worries, as well as the fact that Meta has previously collaborated with Targeted Victory, it's no surprise that it's attempting to stir concerns about TikTok in this manner. Nonetheless, it is a source of concern. Should a private firm, especially one with the capacity to influence on the scale that Meta can via its applications, be acting as a political entity and attempting to block a potential competitor through influence operations?
This will undoubtedly become another piece of evidence in the ongoing antitrust cases against Meta, which are centered on its purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp - though the extra evidence of how it intends to squash its rivals will still be admissible in court. But, are we really surprised? Meta has a history of attempting to eliminate competitors through purchase or market pressure.
As Snap CEO Evan Spiegel described his 2013 encounter with Zuckerberg, when he turned down Meta's $3 billion purchase offer for his rapidly growing app:
“Zuckerberg flew to Spiegel's hometown, Los Angeles, arranging for a private apartment to host the secret sit-down. When Spiegel showed up with his co-founder Bobby Murphy, who serves as Snapchat's chief technology officer, Zuckerberg had a specific agenda ready. He tried to draw out the partners' vision for Snapchat - and he described Facebook's new product, Poke, a mobile app for sharing photos and making them disappear. It would debut in a matter of days. And in case there was any nuance missed, Zuckerberg would soon change the large sign outside its Silicon Valley campus from its iconic thumbs-up "like" symbol to the Poke icon. Remembers Spiegel: “It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you.’”
This is naturally a component of Meta's make-up because it is part of Zuckerberg's DNA. Meta will try to win in whatever way it can, and if that involves suffocating a competitor through focused public relations, so be it.
What can be done about it? It's not unlawful for Meta to campaign in this manner – and, as previously said, Meta's response to this latest article was to downplay concerns, arguing that TikTok should be willing to face scrutiny commensurate with its popularity.