TikTok teens guns
TikTok's logo with art by serial killer Richard Ramirez and Parkland High school shooter Nikolas Cruz previewing his murders. TikTok's algorithm recommended Ramirez's art; Cruz's video was found through a search. Both videos were shown to 13-year-old accounts.

The viral "devious licks" challenge that alarmed parents and school officials last year was amplified by a Republican consulting firm as part of a public relations campaign against TikTok orchestrated by Facebook.

The social media giant's parent company Meta is paying Targeted Victory, one of the biggest GOP consulting firms in the country, to promote dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook as part of a campaign to turn public sentiment against the Chinese-owned app that's popular with children and younger adults, reported the Washington Post.

"Targeted Victory worked to amplify negative TikTok coverage through a Google document titled 'Bad TikTok Clips,' which was shared internally and included links to dubious local news stories citing TikTok as the origin of dangerous teen trends," the Post reported. "Local operatives working with the firm were encouraged to promote these alleged TikTok trends in their own markets to put pressure on lawmakers to act."

One of those highlighted trends was the "devious licks" challenge that showed students vandalizing school property, which Targeted Victory pushed to local media outlets in multiple states and eventually prompted Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to call on TikTok executives to testify before a Senate subcommittee.

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However, according to an investigation by Anna Foley at the podcast network Gimlet, rumors about "devious licks" first spread of Facebook.

Targeted Victory tried to spread rumors in October of a “Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge” in local news, but those rumors also originated on Facebook and did not actually exist on TikTok.

“Any local examples of bad TikTok trends/stories in your markets?” one Targeted Victory staffer asked a media partner. “Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger: how TikTok has become the most harmful social media space for kids.’”