Who Can Do This

  • Any member of the House or Senate

Difficulty: Moderate


Working with traditional and social media helps to broaden awareness of issues, build public support and momentum for the cause, amplify and justify interventions, shame perpetrators, and goad officials to action. It also lets members, administration officials, and interested organizations know you are working on this issue.


Traditional media opportunities include appearing on radio and TV shows, writing op-eds, holding press conferences, providing information to investigative journalists and news reporters, and issuing press releases. Social media opportunities range from a single tweet to regular posting on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Medium and LinkedIn Pulse. Members can also host or participate in a human rights-related Twitter Chat, Google Hangout, Facebook Live, or Reddit AMAs.

Good Practices

  • Find reporters who are interested in the subject, and cultivate relationships so that they turn to you or your boss as a source.
  • Draw attention to letters, statements, and other actions by issuing press releases, posting to Facebook, and announcing them on Twitter.
  • To get the best media attention, create a clear and compelling narrative through the judicious use of survivors’ stories. Personal accounts help to build a sense of connection and spark human interest.
  • Send your boss’ op-ed to a newspaper in the country you are seeking to influence, if it has an open press. The piece might have even more influence there.
  • Planting a question at a press conference or at the State Department daily press briefing may be the fastest way for you to get an answer from the State Department. This method works best if the press secretary receives advance warning of the question, which forces consideration of the issue within the department. Otherwise, the answer is likely to be, “We’ll have to get back to you on that one.”
  • Reporters will be more likely to write stories if you can prepackage the key data for them. The State Department’s web page for the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices allows you to customize reports on specific types of abuses (such as prison conditions, official corruption, or anti-Semitism), specific populations (such as women, children, or persons with disabilities), or specific countries and regions.
  • Many foreign governments are quite concerned about their public image in the United States. Publishing information about the misdeeds of their officials may be more likely to prompt a response than raising concerns through private channels.

Instructive Examples

  1. Making Headlines. In 2015, Rep. Duncan Hunter used the media effectively to call out U.S. military commanders for ordering American soldiers and Marines to ignore child sex abuse by allied forces in Afghanistan. He was quoted as saying: “To say that you’ve got to be nice to the child rapist because otherwise the other child rapists might not like you is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard — totally insane and wrong.” He later introduced legislation requiring DOD to police child abuse on U.S. military bases, even in foreign countries.
  2. Responding by Press Release. After President Muhammadu Buhari told the U.S. Institute of Peace that the “Leahy Law” was undermining Nigeria’s ability to fight Boko Haram, Patrick Leahy issued a press statement refuting the charge. Leahy responded, “Rather than suggest that the United States is at fault for not funding murderers and rapists in the Nigerian military, he should face up to his own responsibility to effectively counter Boko Haram. He should direct his attention to the Nigerian military, and the Nigerian courts, and clean up the units implicated in such atrocities.”
  3. Writing an Op-Ed. Mike Honda published an opinion piece in calling on Secretary Clinton to use the opportunity of her 2012 visit to Laos – the first in 57 years by a U.S. Secretary of State – to make a commitment to long-term, sustained efforts for demining in that country. After many years of hard work by activists and their congressional supporters, funding for clearance of unexploded ordnance in Laos rose from $3 million in 2008 to $15 million in 2016. In September 2016, President Obama visited Laos and pledged $90 million over three years to clear tens of millions of unexploded U.S. bombs from the Vietnam War.
  4. Finding a Local Hook. Chuck Schumer is famous for Sunday press conferences that focus on local issues. This has made him an effective advocate for human rights when constituent politics and global emergencies have overlapped. After a massive earthquake struck Nepal in May 2015, Schumer used this weekly event to gain help Temporary Protected Status for Nepalese living in the U.S.
  5. Making Headlines Part II. Building name recognition for an issue or community is crucial for driving human rights advocacy, but not every opportunity rises to the level of imprisoned constituents. Work human rights and religious freedom into talking points for radio, television, and editorial boards. Make it part of the conversation around your boss.