Fact check: A viral TikTok misrepresents 2011 satirical video about Facebook and the CIA

The claim: Video shows a news broadcast about Facebook being secretly run by the CIA 

A viral TikTok video, created by a known conspiracy theorist, is misconstruing a 2011 satirical video as evidence that Facebook is secretly operated by the C.I.A. The video gives no indication that the green-screened video clip it uses comes from The Onion. 

“I guess our right to privacy has been over ruled by the elite at this point,” TikToker @verntheories2.0 claims in the April 14 video. “Did you know?”

The video has garnered more than 872,600 views on TikTok and spread to Facebook and Instagram.

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@verntheories2.0 is known for promoting conspiracy theories to his 10,800 followers. His bio reads “Strictly real time conspiracies.” His recent posts include theories about an alternate-matrix reality, secret reptile people and unfounded anti-vaccination claims.

He includes the hashtags #redpill in many of his posts. The term “red pill” refers to a moment of political awakening that leads an individual to shift their perspective to a more genuine reality. The red pill does not necessarily indicate extremists beliefs although it has become widely associated with QAnon. 

The TikTok logo on a smartphone. (Photo: Anatoliy Sizov / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images)

In the comments section, a few TikTok users questioned the clip’s source while others expressed skepticism about Facebook’s motives. 

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Due to privacy settings, @verntheories2.0 could not be messaged through the TikTok app. USA TODAY reached out to several Facebook and Instagram users that shared the video for comment. 

The Onion produced the video in 2011

Popular satirical outlet The Onion posted the video, which calls Facebook “a massive surveillance operation for the C.I.A.”, on March 21, 2011.

In the video, The Onion called Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a C.I.A. agent who runs Facebook’s “day-to-day operations” for the agency and joked that Zuckerberg’s code name was “The Overlord.”

Acting as deputy C.I.A. director in a congressional hearing scene, Onion writer Christopher Sartinsky joked about peoples’ willingness to share personal information online. 

“After years of secretly monitoring the public, we were astounded so many people would willingly publicize where they live, their religious and political views, an alphabetized list of all their friends, personal email addresses, phone numbers, hundreds of photos of themselves and even status updates about what they were doing moment to moment. It is truly a dream come true for the C.I.A.” he said.

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Misunderstandings about the video’s satirical source have fueled other false claims about Facebook that USA TODAY has also debunked. 

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that the news reported Facebook was a secret C.I.A surveillance program FALSE because it is not supported by our research. The video was originally published by a satirical news outlet and has since been shared by a conspiracy theory TikTok account. The TikTok video gives no indication that claims made in the video originated as jokes.

Our fact-check sources:

  • @verntheories2.0, accessed April 29, TikTok profile
  • @verntheories2.0, accessed April 27, TikTok video
  • @verntheories2.0, accessed April 21, TikTok video
  • @verntheories2.0, accessed April 15, TikTok video
  • Anti-Defamation League, Nov. 6, 2019, The Extremist Medicine Cabinet: A Guide to Online “Pills”
  • YouTube, BBC Newsnight, Aug. 16, 2018, Conspiracy theories: QAnon and the red pill of truth – BBC Newsnight
  • The Onion, March 21, 2011, CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program Dramatically Cut Agency’s Costs
  • USA TODAY, July 28, 2020, Fact check: Mark Zuckerberg is not the grandson of David Rockefeller

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