Internal emails, apparently seen by the Washington Post, allegedly suggested that Targeted Victory’s campaign aimed to portray TikTok “as a danger to American children.” Zac Moffatt tweeted that the Post story misread his work and “key points are just false“.
The BBC international website reached out to Meta for comment. A spokesperson said: “We believe that all platforms, including TikTok, must face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success.”.
The “bare-knuckle” campaign allegedly included opinion pieces and letters to the editor in US regional news outlets “promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook,” the Post’s journalists wrote.
None of the opinion pieces or letters to the editor revealed that a Meta-funded group was putting pressure on them, the paper added.
In response to the article, Moffat tweeted that:
“History infers that the words of the letters to the editor were not from the authors themselves, nor were they aware of Meta’s involvement. This is false. They will confirm it.”
In internal emails, the paper claimed, Targeted Victory urged its partners to publish stories in local media that linked TikTok to dangerous trends.
“The dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From Dances to Danger: How TikTok Became the Most Harmful Social Media Space for Kids‘” a Targeted Victory staff member wrote in an email apparently seen by the Post. The newspaper claimed that Targeted Victory encouraged agents to amplify reports of dangerous trends linked to TikTok.
These included an alleged Devious Licks challenge, which encouraged damage to school property, and reports of an alleged Slap a Teacher challenge, which an investigation by news website Insider suggested did not in fact exist. But journalistic investigations suggested that stories about both challenges began to spread on Facebook.
Following the post, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers – a major US teachers union – accused Facebook of fanning the flames of Devious Licks and terrorizing.”teachers, students and parents across America as a result“. These fears were echoed by TikTok itself.
In response to the article, the company told the BBC international website:
“We are deeply concerned that the increase in local media reports about alleged trends not found on the platform could cause real-world damage.”
Responding to the article, tech journalist Casey Newton wrote in his Platformer newsletter that the effect went beyond inconvenience, but risked inspiring people to take on the supposed challenges.
“Even the fact that Meta may have helped to inspire such imitators should have been enough to kill this project when it was still in the making.“, he wrote. Moffatt tweeted that the Post itself had reported on the alleged TikTok challenges.
Facebook media strategies
Targeted Victory describes itself as “center-right”, but Moffatt said it managed “bipartisan teams”. In 2016, Moffatt met with Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg as part of a group of high-profile conservative figures following allegations – which the company has denied – that it tampered with its Trending Topics feature, to promote “progressive” views. .
Now it is Moffatt’s work with Meta that is attracting scrutiny. However, this latest incident is not the first time that the strategies of companies hired by the social media giant have been criticized. In 2018, the New York Times exposed tactics used by a public relations firm, Definers, hired by Facebook.
The newspaper said the company circulated a document falsely claiming that the anti-Facebook campaign group Freedom From Facebook was supported by financier George Soros. Zuckerberg, on the other hand, said he was not aware of Definers’ actions and said the company would no longer work with the company.
This article is a translation of the writing in BBC News.
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