Public Citizen News / November-December 2022
This article appeared in the November/December 2022 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.
If you’re active on the social media platform TikTok, you may have come across content from Cheyenne Hunt-Majer. One of Public Citizen’s newest members, the highly charismatic Hunt-Majer quickly proved herself to be a virtuoso at using the platform, creating pithy explainer videos that distill essential news stories into easily digestible clips. As Public Citizen’s Big Tech Accountability Advocate, Hunt-Majer brings her expertise in legislative advocacy and democracy-focused tech policy to bear on many of her videos. Many have gone viral, putting her in true “Tok of the Town” territory. She has amassed several thousand followers and her videos have been “liked” more than 2 million times. Her output (she creates several videos a week) is only matched by the range of topics she has covered. In the span of just the past few months, she has explored how social media platforms are profiting from ads designed to suppress voting in key midterm election states; laid out the connection between video games and violent extremism; and exposed censorship on the social media platform Truth Social. In the below interview, Hunt-Majer, who has a law degree from the University of California, Irvine School of Law, discusses her work at Public Citizen and being very online.
Q: Can you describe your path to working at Public Citizen?
A: I’ve always wanted to work in politics, so I went to law school with that goal in mind. I found a lot of purpose working with the Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. There, I realized that some of the most pressing issues of the coming decade would be at the intersection of technology and democracy. Over the last few years, this has proven to be the case. Between Facebook leaking user data that was used to influence a presidential election and an insurrection that was substantially incited online, it’s become increasingly clear that the fate of democracy may be determined by tech policy.
Q: What has been your favorite part about working at Public Citizen?
A: Public Citizen gives us the freedom to pursue projects that interest us so long as they fit within our portfolio. I’ve pitched some really out-of-the-box ideas, like my research on Trump’s social media app Truth Social. While a lot of other people may have thought the platform was a joke, my team backed me up and we ended up being the first to uncover some serious issues with content moderation on the platform.
Q: What does your average day look like?
A: A big part of my job is being chronically online. I generally start by looking at breaking tech news and try to think about things from a different angle. For example, when the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen came forward and revealed that the company had knowingly promoted hate speech, fake news, anorexia, election manipulation, violence, and white supremacy, among other things, everyone was pushing the Federal Trade Commission to act. Instead, I worked on a bill that would empower Facebook’s own shareholders to fire Mark Zuckerberg and elect responsive leadership (as the majority of them had been trying to do for years). I try to find creative approaches like this to rein in Big Tech and meet with my team to brainstorm.
Q: You’ve created some extremely popular videos on TikTok. What’s the process like creating these videos?
A: The process is remarkably unimpressive. It’s essentially me jotting down sarcastic quips about breaking news on sticky notes all day, turning those into a coherent thought, filming them by myself in my apartment, and posting them either right away or during peak traffic hours on the app. I’m always shocked when something goes viral.
Q: Has the response to any of your videos been especially surprising?
A: The reaction to my videos about Truth Social surprised me because they were my first ones to truly go viral and, not long after, they must have started circulating around communities of Trump supporters because I got a remarkable amount of hate in my inbox.
Q: What is one thing you’re hoping to achieve in the coming year?
A: I’d like to get my bill passed to bring true shareholder democracy to companies like Meta (the new name for Facebook). If Big Tech executives knew that they could be held accountable for their misconduct, I suspect they’ll be a lot more responsive to criticism.