Competition can get hairy in Silicon Valley but it may have reached a fresh new level after it was reported that Meta hired a political lobbying group to undercut TikTok, one of its main competitors.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Meta retained the services of Targeted Victory, a political marketing firm with ties to the Republican Party, as part of its campaign to protect its image amidst heightening scrutiny. At the same time, the firm was given a second task of casting a negative spotlight on TikTok to take off some of the heat felt by Meta.

The Post did not say when any contract between Meta and Targeted Victory was signed, but a spokesperson for Targeted Victory said it counted Meta as a client for years. What the Post did provide was detail about how the firm went about maligning TikTok. In particular, Targeted Victory’s staffers appeared focused on portraying the popular app as a danger to American children.

To do this, the firm reportedly cultivated ties to local political reporters and by pushing stories about dangerous trends among young users on TikTok that its staffers compiled in a Google document labeled "Bad TikTok Clips."

In September, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote a letter to TikTok executives to invite them to testify before his subcommittee after noting the app may be encouraging "harmful and destructive acts." Blumenthal, who presided over hearings about Facebook's own misconduct, made this request allegedly over the "devious lick" challenge that involved teens filming themselves stealing or vandalizing school property.

Left unsaid was the trend’s emergence not on TikTok, but on Facebook. This happened again when Targeted Victory allegedly worked to spread rumors about a "Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge" in local news outlets, but the Post reports that the rumors again began on Facebook. Vice News also reported that the challenge may have been exaggerated in the first place.

Meta's campaign against TikTok follows a bruising set of years for the company over how it deals with misinformation, the impact of its content on teens' mental health and political advertising among others. The pressure blew up into the open after insider-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugens leaked internal research to journalists that showed Facebook was aware of the adverse side effects of its products despite publicly downplaying them.

The social media company responded by changing its name to Meta in 2021 and by continuing an aggressive defense of its public image.

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