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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.