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The MRC's (Bought-And-Paid-For) War on TikTok

The Media Research Center posts videos on Facebook it knows will get deleted so it can play victim -- while promoting anti-TikTok talking points that came from a Republican PR firm hired by Facebook to malign its competition.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/9/2022

In March, the Washington Post reported that Facebook's owner, Meta, paid a Republican consulting firm called Targeted Victory to manufacture fear about competitor TikTok as a Chinese-owned app that is endangering teenage users, which included "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," as well as emphasizing TikTok's foreign ownership.

The Media Research Center didn't tell its readers about this development -- probably because it was too busy dancing to Facebook's tune. Here are some of the attacks on TikTok that the MRC issued in the months and years before the Post story came out -- stories that hewed close to Facebook's anti-TikTok narrative:

The MRC also enthusiastically shilled for the Trump administration's attempts to ban TikTok in the U.S. or force its sale to a non-Chinese firm, which apparently came in response to a campaign organized by TikTok users to snap up free tickets to a Trump rally in Oklahoma, which ended up being sparsely attended (which the MRC hated):

When a federal judge blocked Trump's TikTok ban in September 2020, Kayla Sargent lamented it but optimistically claimed it was "thankfully, only temporarily." The Trump administration abandoned the ban completely after the presidential election Trump lost, and Sargent returned to complain that it did so despite "serious national security concerns."

The MRC, by the way, is not unfamiliar with Targeted Victory. Both MRC chief Brent Bozell and Targeted Victory co-founder Zac Moffatt were among the attendees at a 2016 meeting between conservative activists and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, which took place after allegations that Facebook's news feed was biased against conservatives (which turned out to be overblown). But Bozell and his right-wingers got what they wanted: to have Facebook afraid of doing anything that might anger them, even if it harmed Facebook's overall quality.

The MRC has never told is readers about how Facebook fed TikTok attacks to a GOP strategy firm, but it did keep up the attacks. An April 17 item by Autumn Johnson hyped how "The Department of Homeland Security reportedly investigated how TikTok handled material that detailed the sexual abuse of children," making sure to add that "The platform is designed to be popular among teenagers." Johnson failed to mention the Facebook smear campaign against TikTok.

This is the second time the MRC has been caught playing both sides of the war on "big tech" and secretly promoting Facebook talking points. ConWebWatch has already documented how the MRC attacked Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen at the same time that Facebook as a purported liberal activist (whose criticism of Facebook, not coincidentally, got a lot more traction that the MRC's war on Facebook has) as Facebook was working behind the scenes to feed those very same attacks on Haugen to conservative groups.

The MRC has never public admitted that Facebook wrote its anti-Haugen script -- and it's certainly not going to admit that it was taking dictation from Facebook in attacking TikTok -- but the parallels are too obvious to dismiss.

Also playing the victim

Despite all of these attacks on TikTok, the MRC has a TikTok account under its MRCTV brand, and it misses no opportunity to play victim itself when TikTok enforces its terms of service, which the MRC frequently violates.

In January, Brian Bradley whined that "Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-affiliated TikTok censored the pro-free-speech Media Research Center for the third time in three months" because MRCTV's Brittany Hughes "opined on government response measures to the COVID-19 omicron variant." Actually, Hughes ranted against mask mandates, apparently falsely claiming that COVID "basically gives people a cold." Bradley didn't mention that. We'd link to the video, but YouTube has removed it as well.

In a Feb. 23 podcast, Tierin-Rose Mandelburg grumbled that "the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated TikTok app has been on a censorship crusade against the Media Research Center," again citing the false Hughes video. Gabriela Pariseau had an updated tally for a Feb. 28 post: "TikTok has ramped up its censorship in 2022. The platform, affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, censored the Media Research Center three times last year and 14 times in the last two months for a total of 17 times."

As you might have noticed, MRC writers are apparently under orders to try and link TikTok to the "Chinese Communist Party" -- but not to mention that TikTok, like any other private company, Chinese or otherwise, has the right to set and enforce terms of service for the usage of its site. It's also worth noting that the MRC has a history of parroting attacks on TikTok that, it turns out, were being secretly promoted by Facebook, which makes its complaints about the service more than a bit disingenuous.

By the time of a May 25 podcast by Mandelburg, it was up to 34 incidents, adding: "TikTok is a Chinese Communist Party-affiliated app where users post short videos about whatever they please — so long as it fits within the leftist narrative.: Mandelburg has no proof of that, of course; it's part of the victim narrative to claim that conservatives who get held accountable for their words are the victim of political bias and "censorship."

Thus we have a June 1 post by Pariseau:

TikTok can’t seem to get rid of MRCTV no matter how hard it tries. The platform permanently banned, and then restored, MRCTV after placing 36 restrictions on the account.

The Chinese Communist Party-affiliated app “permanently banned” MRCTV “due to multiple violations of [its] Community Guidelines,” according to the notice TikTok sent MRCTV Thursday. The platform gave no specific reason for the ban, and when we attempted to “view details” of what happened, the app logged us out of our account. MRCTV appealed, and TikTok dropped the ban down to a seven-day restriction but only after it removed one more video.

TikTok’s shenanigans are nothing new for MRCTV. The platform removed 30 videos, one of which it removed twice, and restricted the account five times, all in 2022.

More examples were provided, including a podcast by Mandelburg in which she ranted that "abortion is murder." Curiously, there was no mention of whether Mandelburg endorses the logical extension of that argument by imprisoning and executing women who have abortions.

Again, Pariseau made no mention of the fact that TikTok, as a private business, has the right to enforce its terms of service, nor did she disclose the fact that the MRC was being fed anti-TikTok narratives by Facebook.

Attacks -- and victimhood -- continue

A July 21 post by Catherine Salgado hyped a poll claiming that "More than half of Americans want app stores to remove TikTok following revelations that Chinese employees can directly access U.S. user data." Hyping that China is a threat through TikTok is a key part of Facebook's attack line, which it laundered through a right-wing consulting firm called Targeted Victory. Salgado followed that with a July 27 post promoting right-wing podcaster (and beneficiary of previous MRC defenses) Joe Rogan ranting that doing anything on TikTok "ends with China having all of your data."

Then it was victimhood time, and it took both Joseph Vazquez and Gabriela Pariseau to fully complain about it in an Aug. 1 post:

The Chinese Communist Party-tied TikTok reached the climax of its lengthy battle with the Media Research Center’s video division by entirely axing it from the platform without notice.

An MRCTV staff member opened the TikTok App to find that the account was “banned” — again — but not before the platform removed five more videos.

TikTok’s latest censor blitz came just three weeks after the platform permanently banned MRCTV on May 26. TikTok reduced the initial sentence from a permanent ban to a weeklong suspension, but one week after the suspension ended, the Chinese-Communist Party-tied platform removed MRCTV. Between Aug. 25, 2021 and June 15, 2022, TikTok censored MRCTV a total of 45 times. Forty-two of those cases were in 2022 alone. When the platform banned MRCTV the second time, the account had amassed over 79,000 followers.

The platform most recently restricted MRCTV from posting any new content and didn’t respond to MRC’s eight attempts to appeal or request comment. Instead of answering MRC’s inquiries, TikTok just decided to nuke the account.
Apparently, getting caught violating TikTok's terms of service 45 times and repeating using the MRC platforms to attack TikTok wasn't sufficient justification. No private business is obligated to serve every single customer, especially after they repeatedly violate the rules and loudly complain about it so they can portray themselves as victims to push right-wing narratives. Interestingly, Vazquez and Pariseau did not explain why the MRC is entitled to abuse upon the private property of others and just simply go elsewhere that they're not "censored"; instead, they whined that "TikTok is apparently easily triggered by conservative content that doesn’t serve the propaganda of its communist overlords." They provide no evidence for their accusation that TikTok's "communist overlords" specifically demanded that MRCTV be platformed -- that just a figment of their lively, partisan imagination.

They did cite a couple videos that were posted at MRCTV's TikTok account before it was suspended. One was of Brittany Hughes spewing at drag queens, and another was of Nick Kangadis creepily "talking about straight pride and his favorite things about being a straight white male.

Despite having repeatedly been shown that TikTok doesn't want policy-breakers around, the MRC continued to harass TikTok (with still no mention of getting fed attack lines by Facebook. An Aug. 15 post by Jeffrey Clark promoted a Forbes report that "Over 300 employees at TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, previously worked for Communist Chinese state media publications"; surprisingly, Clark obtained comment from TikTok's owner, ByteDance, which denied it. This being the MRC, Clark went on to claim "that statement appears to contradict a search by MRC Business that uncovered at least seven individuals on LinkedIn that claim to be current employees of ByteDance or TikTok while also claiming to have previously worked at Chinese state media outlets or companies."

The next day, Vazquez melted down -- complete with lots of scare quotes and uses "so-called" -- over the New York Times highlighting election misinformation on TikTok:

The New York Times is having another meltdown over so-called “election misinformation” on social media and trying to pressure Big Tech companies to up their already bloated censorship operations.

Times technology reporter Tiffany Hsu screeched in an Aug. 14 story headlined: “On TikTok, Election Misinformation Thrives Ahead of Midterms.” Hsu mourned that the Chinese Communist Party-tied platform’s “poor track record during recent voting abroad does not bode well for elections in the U.S., researchers said.” In fact, fretted Hsu, TikTok is supposedly “shaping up to be a primary incubator of baseless and misleading information, in many ways as problematic as Facebook and Twitter, say researchers who track online falsehoods.”

Who in the world crowned the propaganda-spewing Times the Arbiter of Truth?

Who crowned Vazquez the arbiter of what is and is not misinformation? He didn't say.

The MRC was clearly angry that TikTok wants to stop election misinformation -- as if they feel threatened by fact-checkers even though their account has been suspended -- because Salgado ranted further about it in an Aug. 17 post:

Foreign interference in U.S. elections? Chinese Communist Party-linked TikTok launched an in-app Elections Center in the lead-up to the 2022 U.S. midterm elections.

On Aug. 17, TikTok released a statement detailing, “Our commitment to election integrity.” TikTok described its new Elections Center, with “authoritative” resources in 45 languages, including live election reports and information about “who and what” is on the ballot provided by Ballotpedia. TikTok will also label content across its platform related to the midterm elections, allowing users “to click through” to the Elections Center.

This comes as the U.S. House of Representatives’ Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor just issued a “cyber advisory” on TikTok, labeling the app “high-risk” because of China’s access to personal data on it.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-tied ByteDance, also stated it would ban so-called “election misinformation, harassment - including that directed towards election workers - hateful behavior, and violent extremism.”

Only at the MRC would fact-checking and trying to stop harassment and violence against election workers be considered "foreign interference."

A Sept. 1 post by Pariseau promoted an anti-TikTok report the MRC cranked out:

The Chinese Communist Party-tied TikTok is muzzling conservatives and free thinkers by shutting down their accounts, typically with no explanation.

Using our exclusive CensorTrack database, MRC Free Speech America researchers found that TikTok canceled accounts associated with no fewer than 11 pro-free speech organizations since January 2019. Satire accounts, various pro-free speech groups and commentators, pro-life groups and even the MRC’s own MRCTV account, are among those that TikTok shut down.


Censorship doesn’t belong in America, but TikTok seems to think it does.

The platform has deep ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP has a board seat at TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which also sold a 1-percent stake to WangTouZhongWen Technology, a Beijing company owned by three Chinese state entities, according to Reuters.

Pariseau's description of the groups being "banned" is inaccurate. All are right-wing groups and individuals, and few of them support "free speech" when it supports non-conservative causes, like the existence of LGBTQ people.

Unsurprisingly, Pariseau censored the fact that Facebook has paid a Republican PR firm to spread attacks against its competitor TikTok -- attacks the MRC has dutifully repeated. That paid shilling undercuts the MRC's anti-TikTok narrative, even if there might be some truth behind it. Finally, she refused to explain how pulling the MRC's video makes TikTok inherently "anti-American." After all, it's not like the MRC is any sort of official ambassador for the country.

Also unsurprisingly, MRC executive Tim Graham used a Fox News appearance later that day to parrot the complaint, adding: "When they don't like freedom, when they don't like videos that attack communism, you might just guess it’s a communist channel.”

In a Nov. 9 post, Pariseau served up some performative outrage about yet another MRC video getting "censored" by TikTok:

Chinese Communist Party-tied TikTok censored the latest episode of MRC’s free speech video series on Monday, the day before Election Day.

Paiten Iselin, host of MRC Free Speech America’s CensorTrack with Paiten, reported on the leftist media’s absolute meltdown after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and started restoring free speech on the platform.

MRC posted the episode to TikTok on Friday, and the anti-American app allowed the content to remain for three days before removing it just in time for Election Day.

The platform claimed that “This video violates our Community Guidelines,” when it notified MRC of the removal. “We remove content and accounts that involve spam or fake engagement, impersonation, or misleading information that causes significant harm,” the platform notification only vaguely attempted to explain.

It’s unclear how exactly MRC’s video exposing anti-free-speech leftists who complained about Twitter’s free-speech makeover qualifies as “spam” or “impersonation.” But the platform also forbids “misleading information that causes significant harm,” which could refer to literally anything the platform does not approve of. It appears the leftist, CCP-tied TikTok disapproves of MRC Free Speech America’s latest video.

Pariseau didn't explain why it has a TikTok account in the first place if its videos repeatedly get "censored" -- unless it's done for the express purpose of writing about the videos getting pulled to push its anti-Big Tech narrative and to play victim. She again censored the fact that Facebook funneled anti-TikTok attacks to it through a Republican PR firm.

Meanwhile, the presumably-paid-for attacks on TikTok continued, usually with emphasis on the company's alleged ties with the Chinese government -- a talking point pushed by the GOP PR firm hired by Facebook:

The MRC seems not to understand that it has tainted its brand by being fed anti-TikTok narratives by Facebook, if it hasn't accepted money directly itself --just like its attacks on Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen were also fueled by Facebook. It's clear that its performative outrage against TikTok is as phony as its complaints whenever TikTok pulls an MRC video (which is the whole point of posting them) -- and until the MRC can come clean and admit it was bought off by Facebook, there's no reason to believe its purported anger at TikTok is anything but bought and paid for.

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