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Many battlegrounds will mark this election season, but none will be more vital than social media. The left is already gearing up, using TikTok as a weapon for their latest paid propaganda and disinformation campaigns. They’re delighted with what they’re doing, but they’re afraid the Tories might catch on and play the same game. And naturally we should.
Leading this charge is a progressive PR firm called Vocal Media, which is working tirelessly (and spending freely) to put its propaganda front and center on TikTok, aiming to brainwash America’s youth on the popular Chinese platform. One thing we’ve noticed is that Vocal Media seems more like a political activist group than a PR firm, just saying…
Imagine, if you will, a panoply of TikToks, scrolling in a hypnotic flow before you. A disgruntled 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 excited about how the bipartisan infrastructure deal could create more charging stations for electric vehicles. A single father washing baby bottles in his kitchen and singing the praises of the expanded child tax credit championed by Democrats and the Biden White House. A woman jumping off the sofa 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 American cultural site in southern Nevada.
All of these videos (you can watch three of them at these links) have one thing in common, besides being a little wooden in their delivery: they were created by an “influencer marketing partner” called Vocal Media, which specializes in ” influencer campaigns” for progressives and non-profit causes. Vocal has been training and paying influencers to promote their clients’ causes in a series of videos that are generally not marked as sponsored content. (Swift’s video contained a logo for Vote Save America, a Crooked Media project promoting progressive voter outreach, which at least suggests a partnership of some kind.) The videos, as a whole, seem to contravene the spirit, if no, the company insists, the letter of TikTok’s rules on political advertising and the Federal Election Commission’s guidelines on sponsored political content online, which advise: “Virtually all paid political advertising on the Internet must contain a full, clear and conspicuous disclaimer.” We know all this because someone at communications firm Hone Strategies emailed me asking if I wanted to write about Vocal and its influencer partners.
TikTok’s official position on this undercover and paid political propaganda is that it is not allowed on their platform. But we’ve all seen how the White House has repeatedly used TikTok influencers to promote their twisted progressive policies, right? If we have
The vice the piece continues:
TikTok has been very clear that partisan and political ads, and these are ads in that people are paid to promote something on behalf of a third party, are not okay, and issued a statement in October 2019 which said, in part, “[W]Paid ads promoting or opposing a candidate, incumbent, political party or group, or federal, state, or local issues, including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or commercials, will not be allowed But a 2021 analysis by the Mozilla Foundation found that influencers were easily circumventing the ban, concluding that the company’s political ad policies are “easy to circumvent.”
“Our investigation found that several TikTok influencers in the United States who spread political messages on the platform receive payment or the promise of compensation from political organizations,” the report’s authors wrote. “Under FTC guidelines, we define payment as any form of material compensation: financial compensation, free gifts, or travel. Some of this funding could be characterized as ‘dark money’: political spending that had as aimed at influencing voters, but where the source of the money and/or the donor is not fully disclosed.”
What worries the folks at Vice the most is not the underhanded use of propaganda. No, what they’re really worried about is the possibility that people on the right will find out what’s going on and start their own campaign. If this happens, they believe there will be a “problem”:
It’s easy to see how someone with a lot of money hoping to promote less benign or good-hearted causes could bridge this specific loophole. It’s also easy to see how all of this aligns with an emerging phenomenon: While progressive and Democrat-aligned organizations are increasingly interested in fighting “disinformation,” progressive and Democrat-aligned organizations are employing strategies , such as covert paid advertising campaigns, which would presumably be considered distasteful or immoral, or described as disinformation, if used by someone on the other side. Anything that can be done to highlight the child tax credit or promote Ketanji Brown-Jackson, after all, can also very easily be done to advocate for expanded gun rights or to promote the registry of Brett Kavanaugh .
As long as the left controls the narrative and drives the propaganda, all seems right in their world and their tactics are considered right. But if the right takes a similar approach, it is suddenly labeled a “disinformation campaign” and a “threat to democracy.” You see how this game works, right? It’s a strategy that’s been in play for a long time, but we still haven’t figured out how to beat them or beat them at their own game. As we head into 2024, that must change. Time to take off the gloves and get a little dirty.