A Propaganda Mill: Allegations surface about Facebook using GOP firm for dirty tricks campaign
The new revelation that Facebook hired one of the largest Republican consulting firms in the United States to carry out a public attack campaign against rival platform TikTok was seen as further evidence of the social media behemoth’s growing alliance with the rightwing political apparatus.
According to the Washington Post, which first reported Facebook’s move, the campaign against TikTok orchestrated by Targeted Victory, a digital-first agency based in Virginia, “includes placing Op-Eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping take down its biggest competitor.”
“These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users,” the Post added.
Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Facebook’s parent company Meta, defended the campaign, telling the newspaper that “we believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success.”
Targeted Victory was launched in 2009 by Zac Moffatt, who served as a digital director for Senator Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) 2012 presidential campaign. In recent years, according to Open Secrets, the firm has received tens of millions of dollars in payments from Republican campaign committees and America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC.
The Post reported Wednesday that as part of its campaign to paint TikTok as a dangerous platform, Targeted Victory “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,” the Post noted. “The rumor started on Facebook, according to a series of Facebook posts first documented by Insider.”
In a statement to the Post, Targeted Victory said it has partnered with Facebook for years and is “proud of the work we have done.”
News that Facebook was paying a GOP firm to do its business-related dirty work comes as the platform is facing mounting criticism for using algorithm changes to boost right-wing political content and publications such as The Daily Wire, an outlet created by Ben Shapiro that has been found to have violated Facebook’s rules.
“This story tends to indicate that Facebook is just part of the Republican political machine now,” Ryan Cooper, managing editor of The American Prospect, wrote on Twitter in response to the Post’s reporting. “Joel Kaplan is their VP of public policy, [CEO Mark Zuckerberg] is buds with Ben Shapiro, who is allowed to violate Facebook [terms of service] with impunity, the algorithm is rigged to boost conservative content, every day right-wing slop is the most-shared, etc.”
“It’s a GOP propaganda mill,” Cooper added.
Citing research by author and New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose, Recode reported in late 2020 that there is “a regular pattern” on Facebook “of public right-wing pages capturing many more interactions than their left-leaning counterparts.”
A study released in October 2020 by the liberal-leaning watchdog Media Matters for America similarly found that between January 1 and September 30 of that year, “right-leaning pages earned more interactions than left-leaning and nonaligned pages” — undercutting conservatives’ incessant claims that they’re being “censored” by the platform.