Release Date: May 7, 2018
BUFFALO, N.Y. – When Americans learned that Russian government hackers influenced the 2016 presidential election, something snapped. People, particularly young people who had grown up sharing everything online, suddenly learned that the media companies handling their information – like Facebook, Twitter and Google – are selling that data. And they are not being held accountable.
In response, a group of University at Buffalo students in a political communication class has launched an online campaign called #holdmediaaccountable. The goal? To call attention to the profiteering by media companies selling access to Americans and the threat that poses to democracy.
“People using Facebook read articles and share information, but they don’t understand that by ‘liking’ this or ‘sharing’ that, information about you and your opinions is being shared with people outside the country,” said Alexa Federice, one of the students launching the campaign. “They don’t understand the extent to which it goes.”
The goal of the campaign, which being launched on Facebook, Twitter and Change.org, is to gather enough signatures to present to political leaders to urge legislation setting some controls over the use of private information.
“There are no rules or laws preventing companies from selling our information,” said Sasha Unger, another student launching the campaign. “But now that people are finding out and realizing the extent to which companies like Facebook are using our personal private information, it’s becoming an issue.
“Once we do get enough signatures, it can become kind of a leverage piece for the politicians, to show that people in their districts are concerned about this,” she said.
The class, which is taught by Michael Stefanone, PhD, associate professor of communication, has 40 students who all are engaged in the campaign. Some are on teams editing catch phrases and hashtags, others are on social media teams making short videos to be used by other media sources. A team called “The Face” includes students in the videos who are available to speak with the media.
They’ve made it easy for supporters to reach them, as well, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), twitter (#holdmedia), Instagram (@HoldMediaAccountable) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/HoldMediaAccountable/).
The length of the campaign depends on the level of interest. News cycles move quickly, so the organizers hope the campaign grabs people’s attention and stimulates action rapidly.
The class has several hashtags to use and will track which ones generate the most attention. An effective online campaign requires creating momentum by informing people in a compelling way. Organizers hope to draw readers to their Change.org page where they can learn more about the campaign and its goals.
“The campaign is designed to build the political will so that something will happen from a legislative standpoint to insure that companies like this are more accountable for the way they do business,” Federice said.
“This is about starting the conversation,” Unger said. “We want to get the ball rolling.”