Tired of political texting? Read on.
“Boris, Florida is in trouble,” one text message seeking campaign donations — promising 900 percent of the matching money — warned Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
“You have until midnight, Boris,” he insisted, on another campaign text, urging voters to fill out a poll, which came with an image of former President Donald J. Trump pointing with an outstretched index finger like Uncle Sam.
“It’s Mike Pompeo,” said a third message, apparently from the former CIA director. “I’m not asking for a dollar, Boris. I’m asking you to support these Republican veterans running to save America.”
These Republican messages, addressed to “Boris,” were among more than 150 unsolicited messages sent within a month this fall to Lauren Barba, a Democrat in Willmette, Illinois.
Ms Barba, whose phone number was briefly taken by a man named Boris, found the spam on her iPhone an intrusion. I have repeatedly tried to unsubscribe by typing “STOP” – to no avail.
“My phone was constantly ringing,” Ms Barba said, adding that she was annoyed by its “hardness.”
She is not alone. In October, people in the United States received an estimated 1.29 billion political text messages – about twice as many as in April – according to RobocallerIt is an application that blocks automated calls and unwanted messages. Many voters have complaints about this.
In response to the recent Questions from the New York TimesMore than 940 readers from across the political spectrum shared their experiences, describing a barrage of inflammatory messages from both parties. To clear their concerns, readers also provided more than 1,000 images of political texts on their phones. Many of them were filled with divisive language or deceptive content.
Campaign messages are not limited to extracting some voters’ deep frustration with unwelcome political texts. They also document how political text messages became a vehicle for spreading doomsday scenarios, lies and defamation of election campaigns.
In other words, text messages are an easy way for political actors to spread the same kind of divisiveness and misinformation already prevalent on social media—away from the public scrutiny of academic researchers, fact-checking groups, and journalists.
Status of the 2022 midterm elections
Election day is Tuesday, November 8.
“I am disturbed by the divisive language, the lies about election fraud, and the fact that after requesting an opt-out, I received the exact same text immediately afterwards,” wrote Eileen Kao, a software engineer in Washington, DC.
In some cases, campaign texts did not clearly disclose who their sponsors were. Others have requested donations to and contained links to unknown entities – making it difficult to distinguish between real campaign messages, spam and fundraising scams.
Consumers filed 9,477 political texting fraud reports with Federal Trade Commission in fiscal year 2022. Separately, Federal Communications Commission Over the past year, he received about 2,100 complaints related to political texts.
However, there is little federal oversight or scrutiny of political text messages, in part because regulation has not kept pace with technological advances. As a result, Americans seeking to stop political texts have little recourse other than blocking individual campaign numbers on their phones or Report it for their wireless carriers.
The FEC’s rules requiring political ads on broadcast television, cable, and radio to reveal their sponsors, for example, do not apply to political text messages.
Other rules, enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, require campaigns that use autodial software — automated dialing technology that can automatically call random or serial phone numbers — to gain approval before calling or texting consumers. But those rules Based on a 30-year-old law: Consumer Protection by Phone Law of 1991. It does not apply to political campaigns today that use apps to send text messages to hundreds of thousands of people.
In fact, the torrent of text messages only increased this year after the Supreme Court sided with Facebook in a lawsuit in 2021 over mobile phone spam. In this case, Facebook vs DuguidThe court ruled that Facebook’s text-messaging method did not meet a narrow definition of auto-request – a decision that has encouraged some campaigns to freely bombard voters with spam texts.
“The Supreme Court decision created a loophole that I think a lot of actors, both good and bad, are using and exploiting,” FCC chair Jessica Rosenworsel said in an interview. “That’s why you see such a huge increase in the number of these texts.”
Even voters engaged in politics and generally welcoming of the campaign texts said they would like to see reforms.
Joan Condon, a frequent donor to Democratic campaigns who lives in Orleans, Massachusetts, said she loves receiving texts that keep her updated on issues like climate change and gun control. But she objected to the shocking tone and feigned urgency—”Deadline tonight!” She said one of the fundraising letters she received – from several political scripts.
“I don’t like intimidation tactics,” Condon said. “You know, please don’t insult my intelligence.” It also dealt with “investigative” text messages that solicit voters’ opinions only to ask them for campaign donations at a later time. “It’s like bait and switch,” she said.
Unlike email, text messages are still seen by many as a sacred channel for communicating with friends, family, or co-workers. This is why some Americans consider unsolicited political texts a breach of privacy.
“I’m registered as a Republican but have never signed up for any of these campaign connections,” wrote Brian Wiley, assistant professor of psychology in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Mr Wiley, who received texts promoting Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, said he had filed a complaint with the FCC that “there is no longer any protection for phone numbers.”
Mobile service providers including Verizon and AT&T, along with dozens of services that facilitate text message campaigns, recently signed up to an effort to standardize industry practices.
Participating campaigns record the 10-digit numbers they use to send text messages using a hub called Campaign log. They also agree to follow industry best practices, including obtaining consent before texting and honoring opt-out requests.
The CTIA Group, a group representing the wireless communications industry, wrote in Recent blog post. The blog also said campaigns should take into account that consumers “donate to a particular candidate does not mean that they agree to receive text messages from that candidate.”
It doesn’t always work out this way.
In 2020, a Phoenix-area retiree donated to the Senate’s first campaign for Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat. Senator Warnock won a special election in 2021. (The retiree asked that her name not be used for privacy reasons.) This year, she said, Senator Warnock’s re-election campaign started sending unsolicited text messages she didn’t want, via her Google Voice number.
But after she wrote STOP to unsubscribe, she received another text from Warnock’s campaign, this time from a different phone number. In all, after being repeatedly rejected, she received Warnock’s texts from at least 30 different numbers.
In a statement, Warnock’s campaign said it was honoring opt-out requests, using a “highly effective text messaging tool” to automatically remove numbers from which it received “STOP” requests. But if the opt-out request came from a phone number not in the campaign’s text message list – like a Google Voice number – then the campaign said it had “no way of knowing that it made the opt-out request”.
Readers also referred to political texts that spread misinformation or misinformation. One text falsely claimed that President Biden was about to send 87,000 IRS agents to “close and destroy churches across America.”
Jessalyn Alland, an artist in Emeryville, California, has received a number of letters from Republicans containing false or exaggerated assertions, including a seemingly urgent text that says Democrats have organized a petition to impeach Justice Amy Connie Barrett from the Supreme Court. She collected more than 50,000 names for her. “We need 305 GOP signers to inundate them,” the letter said.
The letters were “disappointing because they are ridiculous and full of lies and lies,” Aland wrote. “These campaigns prey on people, from all sides of the political spectrum, and I see that in the messages I get,” she added.
In September, the FCC Proposed new rules To eliminate fraudulent text messages and spam. They may ask mobile service providers to block potentially illegal texts.
Such an approach would enable the FCC to help eradicate text-message fraud — without involving the agency in the complex issues of political content and freedom of expression, said Ms. Rosenworsel, the agency’s chief.
But enforcing meaningful transparency and consumer protections for political text messages will likely require action from Congress, a body populated by lawmakers who rely on mass text messaging to solicit electoral donations.
John Libowitz, a privacy attorney in Washington, D.C., said he is also concerned that candidates, political committees, and like-minded advocacy groups are now freely able to obtain and exchange voters’ cell phone numbers — a phenomenon he describes as “bipartisan intrusions on privacy.” Example, the reporter sent copies of the unsolicited text messages he received from both parties.
“It is disgraceful that politicians are allowed to do this,” said Mr. Leibovitz, the former chair of the Federal Trade Commission. “Someone has to make sure there is a law that can stop this.”
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