Sixteen months ago, we warned that TikTok was being infested by paid – liberal – media campaigns. Campaigns that broke the FEC rules on how payments for content and advertising need to be treated. We can today point out that Vice has just caught up with this story – and they think it’s OK.
We pointed out in January 2021 that suddenly, TikTok lit up with content all in favor of “Protect the Arctic.” Well, OK, although it’s a little odd to think of dancers and lip-synchers getting all fired up about that particular subject and if they did, all at the same time? That there was going to be a deadline about oil drilling in the Arctic — maybe not entirely self-driven this interest then, eh? Our conclusion back then was that this was a campaign by the Campion Fund and we had the opinion that at least some of it was likely paid for. As we said back then:
“Do TikTok users’ parents know lobbying groups are using their peers to indoctrinate their children?”
Just for the avoidance of doubt, we’re against this idea. The peer-to-peer nature of TikTok is great, but that’s what makes its invasion by those with an – unrevealed – agenda so dangerous.
Vice has caught up with this idea now, that people might be paying to run undeclared campaigns on TikTok:
“A PR Firm Is Paying TikTok Influencers to Promote Liberal Causes and Hype Democrats’ Middling Accomplishments.”
Vocal Media “recruits, trains, and pays influencers” to promote liberal causes on TikTok. It’s easy to see how less-benign actors could use their model.
This stems from a group of (ex-)Democratic staffers and the sort of things being promoted are:
A disgusted Taylor Swift influencer in the fall of 2021, blaming then-Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin’s former company for buying Swift’s master tapes. A Tesla owner enthusing about how the bipartisan infrastructure deal could create more charging stations for electric vehicles. A single dad washing baby bottles in his kitchen and singing the praises of the expanded child tax credit championed by the Democrats and the Biden White House. A woman leaping off her couch in celebration of the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson. An influencer asking her followers to sign a petition for Biden to protect Spirit Mountain, a sacred Native cultural site in southern Nevada.
None of those are particularly evil ideas although they’re all decidedly politically partisan. More to the point though they would appear to be in breach of the FEC regulations. If something’s paid for it has to be clearly marked as such. And both the FEC and TikTok are very keen indeed that anything political must be announced as paid for if it is indeed being paid for. Which these aren’t.
So, yes, the mainstream is catching up with us. TikTok is being used for peer-to-peer advertising to American children. In breach of the rules and partisan advertising along political lines as well.
Vice is a major media organization these days, the cable channel reaches 60 million American homes, the magazine has a 900,000 distribution, the website gains some 25 million visits a month. It matters in that media landscape.
There is one more little issue to mention here. Which is the bias that Vice brings to its; reporting. Sure, these folk are breaking the rules, but they’re liberals, they’re good campaigns, just being a little naughty. But as they say: “ It’s easy to see how this specific loophole could be steamrolled through by someone with a lot of money hoping to promote less than benign or good-hearted causes.” Or, as they really mean, imagine how terrible this would be if someone did it for causes we don’t already agree with!