Text messages become new source of disinformation in U.S. Presidential Election

P2P texting allows for mass broadcasting of messages, with the added benefit of coming from an anonymous source   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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Spread of disinformation has moved from social media networks to friendly peer-to-peer (P2P) texting, according to a team of researchers at the University of Austin Texas.

The team observed the trend during the U.S. Presidential Election in which P2P texting gave a valuable opportunity for campaigners to send private, personalised messages to voters. This allowed them to build relationships with their constituents.

In a private realm of communication, content moderation is virtually non-existent, allowing dissemination of false and misleading information, the team said.

The team highlighted an example which constituted a text message on former Vice President Joe Biden endorsing gender change treatments for eight- and ten-year old’s, and that is too extreme to be supported. This message, claiming to come from an unnamed ‘Democratic volunteer’, began lighting up on people’s phones in swing U.S. states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania the week before the 2020 election.

The text message contained a short video paid for by conservative think-tank American Principles Project (APP). Phone calls to the phone numbers sending the messages failed as they had been disconnected. APP paid Rumble Up, a conservative company offering texting services, over $58,000, as of October 2020, the team stated.

Biden's remarks on children's transgender rights have been misrepresented and misused online. APP has been at the centre of additional misinformation regarding trans-youth healthcare, according to the researchers.

Also read | Instagram pauses 'recent' search listings on U.S. site to stop fake election news

P2P texting allows for mass broadcasting of messages, with the added benefit of coming from an anonymous source. Sometimes, smaller firms provide paid employees to mass-send messages, eliminating the need for volunteers and allowing campaigns to turn money into mass direct-to-voter messaging.​ P2P texting can also give rise to phishing scams, which were previously originating only from emails.

The team notes that this isn't the first time misinformation is being spread via text messages. In the 2016 Presidential Election, fraudulent voter registration-related SMS messages, seemingly deployed by Republican campaigns, were sent to voters in several states. These messages provided misleading information about voter registration statuses.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 12:38:53 PM |

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