Philanthropic organization Luminate and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation donated $750,000 and $600,000, respectively.
Kreiss said a decline of trust in institutional journalism has led the public to seek out information in other areas of the internet. Pew Research reported in 2018 that social media sites have surpassed print journalism as a news source for Americans.
Kreiss said the rabbit-hole of the social media world leaves troublesome questions unanswered.
“Strategic actors can do things like buy targeted advertisements and it’s entirely impossible for citizens to see who gets targeted with that information and how it’s targeted,” he said. “It turns out that Google and Facebook are getting data from porn websites too.”
Companies like Facebook and Google mine internet users’ data from websites across the internet, and Kreiss said they’re financially inclined to engage with salacious and sensational content, as it often gets the most engagement from users.
“What gets so complicated about this is that many consumers have made the decision that they’re willing to trade their data for free content, or at the very least, for the convenience of being able to surf the web or have it personalized,” Kreiss said.
Gary Marchionini is the dean of the School of Information and Library Sciences, the official home of the new center. He researches human-computer interactions, and thinks people should be aware of how their online behavior rakes in cash for big tech.
“It’s buying something on Amazon and then being almost stalked with similar kinds of products. It’s looking at a Youtube video for some casual interest that takes you off in a direction you may or may not want to go in,” he said. “Ultimately people really are affected by these things and if we’re not being a little more critical about these behaviors we’re going to be disappointed down the road.”
The leaders of UNC’s new center plan on drawing in faculty from all over campus, as well as undergrads and graduate students, to help brainstorm answers to the pervasive, existential questions that have come along with the massive growth of social media platforms.
They plan on gathering empirical data that will benefit the public, lawmakers and academics — providing context for the social media universe in a time when consumers are wholeheartedly engaging with the platforms, despite the already-clear privacy drawbacks.
“It’s really hard to opt out,” Kreiss said. “If you’re not opting out, then you’re basically buying into this ecosystem that you don’t have a ton of control over, and the only way to not be tracked is to give up your free porn or give up your free movies.”