ShareBetter failed to obtain permission to use “See Something, Say Something”
Anyone who has ridden a bus, subway or railroad in the U.S. has probably seen a sign warning, “If You See Something, Say Something.” Trademarked by the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and licensed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the phrase is an important component of a nationwide anti-terrorism safety campaign.
However, in February 2017, ShareBetter, the hotel industry-backed, anti-home sharing organization, launched a digital advertising campaign imploring New Yorkers who “see something to say something”—not about terrorism, but about “neighbors they suspect of renting units through Airbnb in violation of city dwelling laws.” ShareBetter also launched a website and a Twitter campaign to support this effort.
According to MTA’s response to our records request, this use of the “See Something, Say Something” phrase was conducted without permission.
The MTA has denied applications to use the trademark by a school anti-bullying campaign, reporting complaints about care facilities and for purposes unrelated to anti-terrorism, making ShareBetter’s use of the phrase in the anti-home sharing context even more questionable.
Despite appropriating the language of the MTA and DHS campaigns, the ShareBetter campaign focused on people using homesharing platforms, encouraging neighbors to report on each other for actions only punishable by fines—far from the terrorism-related efforts that the phrase is meant to encourage.
History of “See Something, Say Something”
The MTA began the “If you see something, say something” campaign to encourage citizen awareness of potential security threats on buses, subways and railroads. Later, DHS expanded the campaign nationwide, partnering with states, cities, counties, airports and mass transit entities, among many others to increase public awareness and vigilance of “the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime.” Individuals or groups interested in using “see something, say something” must first seek a license from the MTA.
According to public records, ShareBetter, which bills itself as a “nationwide group of neighbors, community activists and elected officials who have a unique perspective on the so-called ‘sharing economy’ and Airbnb in our neighborhoods,” was not included on a list of agencies granted permission by MTA or DHS to use the counter-terrorism slogan.
Moreover, ShareBetter was not included in the list of denied agencies, which indicates that the organization may not have sought permission to use the trademark in the first place. If it had asked DHS or MTA for permission to use “See Something, Say Something,” would the coalition’s goal of driving awareness of “illegal hotels” pass muster based on DHS’ and MTA’s parameters?
ShareBetter is supported by a long list of elected officials, community organizations and lobbying groups, including the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), the primary lobbying arm of the hotel industry. It also receives funding from the New York Hotel Trade Council, where union leader Peter Ward serves as president, as well as Unite Here, where Ward serves as recording secretary.
We contacted ShareBetter to ask if they had launched this initiative without permission from MTA or DHS, as pubic records indicate. As of the date of this post, we have yet to receive a reply.
Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from sustainable economy philanthropies and donors.
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