2020-07-24 01:02:54 UTC
Donald Trumps re-election campaign and its de facto leader, his son-in-law and
Jimmy Neutron wannabe Jared Kushner, is locked in an increasingly bitter feud
with mobile networks preventing them from spamming millions of people with
donation or get out the vote requests.
Per Business Insider, the campaign was blocked from sending a surge of text
messages by third-party firm Zipwhip, which handles spam prevention for several
major carriers, over the July 4 weekend. Kushner then escalated the matter by
calling their bosses, getting on the phone with the CEOs of AT&T, Verizon, and
T-Mobile to lodge complaints soon after.
Neither side in this fight are entities deserving of any sympathy. But if the
Trump campaign is using an automated method to send the texts, something it
denies, that could potentially violate both the Telephone Consumer Protection
Act and Federal Communications Commission regulations. In what seems like a
violation of voluntary telecom industry guidelines, many of the messages
reportedly contain no option for recipients to unsubscribe from the presidents
hellhole contact list and are being sent to people who never actually signed up
in the first place. One seen by BI read:
Hi its Pres. Trump. I need your help ASAP to FIGHT BACK against the radical
left & take back my majority. Take a stand NOW.
About a million of the texts went through, according to Politico, in what was
supposed to be a test run before the general election begins. A similar dust-up
in the crucial period immediately preceding election day, however, could
sabotage a candidates campaign.
The telecom companies have reportedly been exasperating for the Trump campaign
to work with and evasive on specifics. In statements to BI, the carriers cited
standards set by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which
isnt a government regulator but an industry group that asks members to abide by
certain guidelines. CTIA told BI its standards mandate all senderswhether
airlines, schools, banks, or campaignsto include clear opt-out language and
gain prior consent before sending a text as part of simple steps to ensure
text messaging isnt totally overtaken by spam.
In other words, Trumps campaign texting operation failed to clear carriers
policies. Color us shocked, or whatever.
According to Politico, people familiar with the situation say the campaign
relies on peer-to-peer messaging, in which campaign volunteers and workers send
texts manually using a contact sheet, rather than robotexting. Though the
recipient likely neither knows nor cares why theyre getting a surprise text,
the FCC considers it legal to send out text messages using P2P systems without
first obtaining opt-in consent from the recipient because of the human
intermediary. Yet Trumps 2016 campaign was sued for unsolicited text messages
in 2016, with the plaintiffs claiming they were robotexted without the required
consent, and it went on to pay a $200,000 settlement. (The campaign continued to
deny it had used auto-dialers.) A lawsuit filed in April 2020 makes similar
claims about the presidents re-election effort.
The telecoms may have been reacting to the prospect of fines. Earlier this year,
the FCC slapped top carriers including AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile with over $200
million in related fines (despite the best efforts of its Trump-appointed
chairman Ajit Pai to hinder the investigation), and it has also launched a
crackdown on robocalling. The Trump administration also signed a law authorizing
fines of up to $10,000 per instance for illegal calls late last year.
According to BI, an industry lawyer said that as the FCCs authority to levy
fines allows them to level arbitrary ones, they could potentially run into the
billions. On the other hand, the FCC is known for barely lifting its finger on
enforcement, especially with regard to debt collection, and it probably doesnt
want to be seen as interfering in the election.
Trumps operation is relying heavily on text messages to mobilize supporters to
donate, volunteer, and get to the polls on election day during the coronavirus
pandemic. So too has presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, as the
coronavirus pandemic has significantly disrupted many regular elements of voter
outreach like canvassing or rallies. Trump, however, has a much more robust
digital operation and is notably more aggressive in both the tone and quantity
of texts its been sending out.
According to Politico, Kushner, who has a robust track record of royally
screwing up sensitive negotiations, took five days to sort the matter out with
the telecomswhile a source told BI the matter wasnt fully resolved as late as
last week. This reportedly another round of suspicion within the Trump campaign
that it was yet more evidence of the supposedly all-encompassing conspiracy in
the tech world to throw him out of office.
In reality, campaigns of other persuasions including Senator Bernie Sanders
have faced lawsuits over alleged violations of consent requirements. Democrats
and non-profits have also criticized the FCCs 2018 reclassification of text
messaging as an information rather than telecommunications service and thus
regulated much more loosely. Pai has insisted deregulation will give carriers
the flexibility to tackle the robotext problem, though Democratic FCC
commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and nonprofits like Public Knowledge have
argued it gives carriers the ability to censor political speech or extort
senders for payments.