As political text messages gain popularity, is there any way to make them stop?

Oct 25, 2018, 2:32 PM
political text messages...
A political text messages sent out in support of State Senate nominee Christian Burridge. (Andrew Hull/KSL Newsradio)
(Andrew Hull/KSL Newsradio)

If you’ve received political text messages asking for your vote, you’re not alone. This midterm, politicians are expected to inundate Americans with more than 100 million text messages.

Political text messages aren’t exactly America’s favorite reason to hear their phones ding. In an informal poll taken by KSL Newsradio over Facebook, only two people said that they like receiving them. And of those two people, one was KSL’s Debbie Dujanovic, who says that she hit the wrong button by mistake.

But the idea of using text messages to canvass for votes is still a fairly new one, and, because of that, there aren’t a lot of laws in place against them. And that means that getting them to stop isn’t going to be as easy as you might hope.

Are political text messages even legal?

The First Amendment protects political text messages

Political text messages are protected under the First Amendment. (Larry 1235, Shutterstock)

The short answer is “yes.” Political text messages are completely legal.

That’s probably a majority of the reason they’re so popular. The Federal Communications Commission has banned political robocalls, but personalized e-mails and text messages are still protected under the First Amendment.

Politicians aren’t legally allowed to use machines to send those text messages, but as long as they have a human being actually pressing the “send” button, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping them from doing it.

There are a lot of legal ways they can get your number, too. Some political campaigns have admitted to using the contact information from the Board of Elections, while others have just outright bought lists of phone numbers from companies that make their livings selling your information.

Those companies are perfectly legal, too, by the way. All you have to do is check the “agree” button below a “terms and conditions” page that, somewhere buried in the middle, warns you that you’re opting in to receive text messages, and they’ll be free to sell your phone number to anyone they want.

Even if your name is on the “Do Not Call” list, you still aren’t safe from political text messages. The Federal Trade Commission has clearly ruled that political organizations are under no obligation to make sure the people they contact aren’t on the list.

How can I get them to stop?

Stop Political Text Messages

The simplest way to get political text messages to stop is to respond with “STOP.” (thecrazyfilmgirl/Flickr)

If you do get a political text message, the easiest way to make sure that candidate doesn’t send you another one is to text back the words “STOP.”

Most politicians will stop their messages willingly, but if they don’t, you could file a complaint with the FTC.

Of course, that won’t stop other politicians from text messaging you. For the time being, there are no laws any politician who can get ahold of your number from harassing you with messages begging your vote.

However, that may change. On Friday, a man in McKinney, Texas filed a lawsuit against politician Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for bombarding voters with political text messages. His case has since turned into a class action lawsuit that could decide the future of political text messages.

It still remains to be seen, though, if anything will come of that lawsuit. For the time being, your best bet when is just to politely ask the politicians to leave you alone.

More to the story

Dave & Dujanovic talked about this story on the air – and about the strange, mixed feelings they have about the one politician that’s texting voters about one of their own news stories.

They spoke with KSL producer and former campaign worker Andrew Hull, who told them: “In the grand scheme of thing, it’s just a text message.” Political text messages, Hull says, are an awful lot better than the old methods.

If you missed the show live on KSL Newsradio, you can still hear everything they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music

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As political text messages gain popularity, is there any way to make them stop?