Speculation that President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee are petitioning cellphone carriers to monitor and edit private text messages is false, DNC and White House officials tell the Washington Examiner.
Still, political operatives from both parties have made a practice of monitoring mass text blasts from the other side in recent years as SMS marketing has exploded as a tool for political campaigns, fundraising groups, and even private sector businesses.
The notion of new Democratic-backed SMS surveillance popped up in conservative circles after Politico published an article Monday that included a line that the DNC and other Biden-allied groups were “planning to engage fact-checkers more aggressively and work with SMS carriers to dispel misinformation about vaccines that is sent over social media and text messages.”
“The goal is to ensure that people who may have difficulty getting a vaccination because of issues like transportation see those barriers lessened or removed entirely,” the article read.
A DNC official told the Washington Examiner that the Democratic Party has been training its grassroots volunteers to sign up for various mass email lists from Republican-affiliated groups since 2019 and to flag noteworthy messages for the communications team.
Similarly, a Republican digital campaigns expert also confirmed that GOP operatives and volunteers frequently sign up to receive text messages from Democratic campaigns and affiliated groups in order to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Referencing Politico’s report, the DNC official conceded that they have added another internal step to their SMS process as a means of combating vaccine misinformation but emphatically stated that the DNC has not and will not lobby SMS carriers, such as AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon, to monitor any text messages distributed at both the bulk list or peer-to-peer level.
P2P messaging refers to any text conversation exchanged between two people. Bulk list messaging requires recipients to opt-in to receive communications from an automated sender, such as the Biden campaign’s “30330” and Trump campaign’s “88022” blasts or even online retailers.
Senders may seek to grow their own reach by either building those lists organically or purchasing numbers from lists owned by other groups or private communications companies.
The DNC official said that Politico “didn’t do a great job” and “fueled a lot of embellishment and speculation” about the new initiative. That new process sees communications officials take the misleading bulk texts about vaccines flagged by volunteers and then forward them to SMS aggregator companies, such as Twilio or Bandwidth, “who either work with a mass texting client or have companies that work with mass texting clients,” the official said.
Those aggregator companies all have “fair use and abuse” policies but “almost all of the time” have no visibility on what their clients are actually sending, “so all we do is say, ‘Hey, did you know that you were sending out these messages?'” the official added.
“The idea that, like, Joe Biden is reading everyone’s text messages, that’s not what happening,” the DNC official said.
Sources on both sides noted that federal law prohibits SMS carriers from monitoring P2P messaging without a warrant, although carriers may deploy machine learning technology to block some bulk messages that violate fair use practices from being delivered.
White House officials also told the Washington Examiner that though some administration officials, such as White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Dr. Anthony Fauci, have ramped up efforts to publicly dispute vaccine misinformation, the administration itself has nothing to do with the DNC initiative.
“We are steadfastly committed to keeping politics out of the effort to get every American vaccinated so that we can save lives and help our economy further recover,” White House spokesperson Kevin Munoz previously told Politico. “When we see deliberate efforts to spread misinformation, we view that as an impediment to the country’s public health and will not shy away from calling that out.”
Conservatives reacted with ire on social media to Politico’s report, and some right-leaning television programs told their viewers that the president and his party were working to monitor their private text messages.
“Biden’s regime has announced they’ll be working with SMS providers to stop vaccine ‘misinformation’ spread via text messages,” freshman Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted. “This is on the same day the White House said they support local officials who implement mandatory vaccines. No wonder they can’t condemn Communism.”
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley suggested that the misinformation campaign was an effort to “force vaccine compliance and who knows what else.”
“Yes, we can allay the concerns of the excessively paranoid by tracking the content they send via text message,” Noah Rothman, an editor at Commentary, wrote.
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Original Author: Christian Datoc