As you got out the charcoal for the barbecue last weekend while gathering with friends and family, you may have felt your phone buzzing in your pocket. Maybe it was a pal looking for last minute directions -- or maybe it was an anonymous text warning you that Candidate X "supports homosexuality and its radical social agenda" or "denies protection to babies who survive abortions." Serious buzzkill delivered to you in the form of unwanted, anonymous and misleading junk messages in the middle of your picnic. But you'll feel even worse when you realize there is no way to unsubscribe from these misleading political texts and you are slapped with the bill for the messages as well. It happened to untold numbers of Americans during the 2012 election cycle and it could happen to you this summer.
It used to be said that Labor Day marked the unofficial start of campaign season, but over the years it has inched up and up, and now you can expect to see the ad wars all summer long. Unsolicited political text messages are illegal. But that hasn't stopped right wing spammers from unleashing hateful homophobic, racist and other uninvited messages on voters across the country the last few election cycles. It happened in 2012 and it happened in 2010 when families from Colorado to Virginia and North Carolina to Minnesota all were hit with political text spam. Unless the FCC takes a stand, political text spammers will torment even more Americans as the 2014 elections heat up.
This crime hits consumers in their wallets, leaving them on the hook for any text charges with their cell phone carriers. Worse yet, there is no way for consumers to opt-out or even see who is responsible for sending the offending messages. And in some of the most egregious cases, the texts are actually used to confuse voters by telling them to show up to the polls on the wrong day.
The advent of text messaging has brought many benefits. It helps connect us with those we care about near and far -- and has played a critical organizing role for citizens around the world working to spread freedom and democracy. Many political campaigns and social justice advocates are using texting for good: inviting interested members of the community to sign up and enjoy updates and opportunities to take action.
In fact, text messaging is one of the most effective campaign tools that exists -- with text recipients 75 times more likely to read a message and take action compared to email recipients. However along with advances in technology come abuses. There is a reason email action rates have become so dismal - our inboxes are cluttered with too many messages. Imagine the same fate happening to your cell phone. Not a pretty picture.
In January 2012, my organization, Revolution Messaging, filed a petition with the FCC to urge them to put an end to political text spam once and for all. For nearly two years, former FCC Chair Julius Genachowski failed to stand up for consumers and rule on the petition to stop this spam. But there is a new chairman in place now and we are urging Chairman Tom Wheeler to take action before the 2014 election cycle gears up.
Under Chairman Wheeler, the FCC just announced they are slapping a conservative group with a $2.9 million fine for placing illegal robocalls (automated recorded calls) to Americans' cell phones. Hitting these spammers with a multi-million dollar fine is an important first step to defending consumers, but the FCC must do more. Not a single political text message spammer has been fined by the FCC to date.
Political text message spam is only going to grow unless the FCC takes a hard line against spammers -- punishing them to the full extent of the law. We can stop the bad guys from turning our cell phones into another spam vehicle. We urge Americans to join us in this fight by visiting pocketspammers.com to learn more and to submit comments to the FCC. Please join us in telling the FCC to stand up for consumers and stop the spammers now before another costly election season gets underway.