TikTok messaging backfires on political group

Website of Democrat-linked scrubs site after media attention.

A US public relations firm that wanted favorable press coverage of its effort to promote Democrat policies on TikTok scrubbed its website after Vice magazine pointed out on Tuesday that this probably violated the platform’s rules.

Vocal Media’s new website promises to “make your campaigns heard through real voices.” Previously, the company used to boast of partnerships with a variety of groups pushing Democrat political messaging, such as MoveOn and Planned Parenthood, according to Vice’s Motherboard. 

“A PR Firm Is Paying TikTok Influencers to Promote Liberal Causes and Hype Democrats’ Middling Accomplishments,” Motherboard’s headline declared.

Tiktoks of a father praising the Democrats’ proposed expansion of child tax credit, a Tesla owner dreaming of more charging stations due to the infrastructure bill, a woman jumping off her couch after Ketanji Brown Jackson was nominated to the US Supreme Court, and even a Taylor Swift fan criticizing the Republican candidate for Virginia governor all turned out to be masterminded by Vocal, according to Motherboard. The videos weren’t clearly marked as sponsored content.

Motherboard reached out to TikTok in order for comments “several”Vocal backed posts were removed from the site, according to the outlet. 

“Political discourse is allowed as long as it complies with our community guidelines and is organic content, meaning there is no sponsorship or paid promotion behind it,”A spokesperson from TikTok stated in a statement.

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FILE PHOTO: White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, April 7, 2022 © AP / Susan Walsh
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Motherboard reported that Democrat groups are “employing strategies, like covert paid ad campaigns, that would presumably be found distasteful or immoral – or described as disinformation – if utilized by someone from across the aisle.”

Joshua Karp of the PR company Hone Strategies, acting as a spokesman for Vocal Media, defended the group’s work. In an email to Motherboard, he stated that his company didn’t script the videos but was merely working with Vocal Media. “influencers creating authentic content about issues that are important to the creators themselves, and helps connect these creators with organizations and nonprofits who are working directly on these issues.”

However, Motherboard only noticed the videos because they received an email from Hone Strategies promoting Vocal’s work last week. It stated that Vocal had been contacted by Hone Strategies. “actually recruits, trains, and pays social media influencers to make videos on important policy topics like abortion, gun violence, etc.”

Hone Strategies was started by ex-Democratic campaign staffers and they now work for the company. “deep understanding of opposition research.” Karp’s own public biography says he worked for several Democratic campaigns, as well as American Bridge 21st Century – the SuperPAC led by the notorious Democrat operative David Brock.

After Motherboard began reporting on Vocal Media’s activities, the group scrubbed its website. Karp stated that this was not related and part of the transition to a different hosting platform. 

Current US government targets TikTok users by recruiting popular creators to help spread messages about a variety of topics, including Covid-19 vaccination and conflict in Ukraine.



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