Photo — © AFP
Facebook’s owner Meta has hired a consulting firm to carry out a US campaign denigrating its fierce rival TikTok, according to a Washington Post report Wednesday partially confirmed by AFP.
The campaign reportedly includes placing letters in major US news outlets and promoting negative stories about TikTok, allegedly using the type of tough tactics familiar to Washington politics.
Meta, which shed hundreds of billions in value earlier this year due to doubts about its future, is in a pitched fight against the video sharing platform popular with young social media fans.
“We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success,” Meta told AFP in a one-line statement in response to the article.
The consulting firm, Targeted Victory, confirmed having worked for Meta and did not deny having put forward negative information about TikTok.
“We’re proud of the work we’ve done to highlight the dangers of TikTok,” the firm’s CEO Zac Moffatt tweeted.
Employees at Targeted Victory worked to undermine TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, by promoting an effort to have it portrayed as a danger to American children, the Post reported, citing the firm’s internal emails.
The Post quoted one message saying Targeted Victory needed 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.”
One effort reportedly included getting parents to sign on to letters raising concerns that were submitted to US newspapers, some of which published them.
Targeted Victory also alerted elected officials and journalists to alleged trends on TikTok that encouraged students to vandalize their school premises, known as “devious licks” or the “slap a teacher” challenge.
The “challenge” urging young users to attack teachers did not start on TikTok, but on Facebook, according to an investigation by the “Reply All” podcast, with the investigator unable to find any videos on this topic on TikTok.
“We are deeply concerned that the stoking of local media reports on alleged trends that have not been found on the platform could cause real world harm,” TikTok told AFP in a statement.
Moffatt, the Targeted Victory CEO, also argued the Post article “mischaracterizes the work we do,” citing examples including the characterization of people who signed the letters sent to newspapers.
“The story infers that the words of the letters to the editor were not the authors’ own, nor did they know of Meta’s involvement. That is false,” he tweeted.
When contacted by AFP, the people cited as signing the latters did not respond to requests for comment.
Meta Will Shut Down its Newsletter Platform Early Next Year
Another sign of Meta’s fleeting interest in the latest trends, the company launched Bulletin in April 2021, as part of an effort to take a piece of the growing newsletter market, with platforms like Substack seeing massive growth in facilitating direct connection between writers and their audiences. Twitter also acquired newsletter platform Revue, and it had seemed, at the time, that newsletters could offer a new, supplementary income stream for creators, aligned with social apps.
In addition to this, Meta also saw an opportunity to provide a platform for local publications that had been shut down due to the pandemic. With ad dollars from local businesses drying up, due to lockdown measures, many smaller publications had to shut down, and Meta viewed this as a chance to make Facebook an even more critical element of community engagement, by providing a direct pathway for independent journalists to serve their audiences through the app.
As part of its initial push, Meta allocated $5 million in funding for local publications to convert to Bulletin instead.
And it sort of worked. Bulletin, at last at one stage, supported over 115 publications, with more than half of the creators on the platform reaching over 1,000 subscribers.
But this year, amid tougher market conditions, Meta lost interest.
The company has been gradually scaling back its investment in news and original content in recent months. Back in July, The Wall Street Journal reported that Meta had reallocated resources from both its Facebook News tab and Bulletin, in order to ‘heighten their focus on building a more robust Creator economy’
In other words, Reels – Meta’s main investment focus for the future of the Creator Economy is short-form video content, which drives more views, more engagement, and is the big trend that Meta’s chasing right now.
As a result, Meta says that it will shut down Bulletin by early next year.
As per Meta:
“Bulletin has allowed us to learn about the relationship between Creators and their audiences and how to better support them in building their community on Facebook. While this off-platform product itself is ending, we remain committed to supporting these and other Creators’ success and growth on our platform.”
So long as they create Reels, I guess.
Again, the decision here is no surprise, but it does serve as another reminder that Meta chases whatever trends it can, and it has no real, long-term commitment on any of its new pushes.
Video is the thing, as it has been several times before, and Meta will keep pushing that till audiences lose interest. Then it’ll be something else that Meta’s pitching to brands, publishers, users, etc.
Logically, Meta follows the latest trends in order to maximize the benefit of such within its tools. But it is worth noting that, when it does lose interest, it tends to move on entirely, leaving anyone who’s invested in its last whim out in the cold.
Overall, Bulletin isn’t huge, and it won’t impact a heap of writers and publishers, as such. But even so, for those that have invested in the platform, in good faith, it’s a bitter pill, and while they will now be able to move on to other platforms as well, it’s good to remind yourself that Meta chases trends, and moves on quick.
‘Don’t build on rented land’. ‘Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket’. Don’t trust social platforms to keep supporting that feature or platform that you’ve come to rely on.
The closure of Bulletin may seem like a side note to many, but it’s an important reminder that you need to diversify your strategy to avoid such impacts.
Meta Will Shut Down its Newsletter Platform Early Next Year
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