The Strange Anti-Obama Texts Blowing Up D.C.-Area Cell Phones
The messages, from mysterious email addresses, attack the president on Medicare, abortion, and more.
Updated, 11:22 p.m.
With the worst of Hurricane Sandy past, many D.C.-area residents have been hearing from far-flung friends checking in to make sure they're fine. But some denizens of Washington and the surrounding area have been getting unsolicited texts that don't come from old friends. On Twitter Tuesday night, political operatives and journalists reported receiving spam texts attacking President Obama. The texts come not from phone numbers but from email addresses, most with mysterious domains: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. According to Whois.com, which allows searches of domain-name owners, those domains were all registered in February, but the registrant's name is blocked.
That makes it tough to figure out where the texts are coming from. But here's a sample of what they're saying. New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman notes that his teen daughter received one (he was not happy about it):
Txt to my 13-yr-old daughter: "Obama denies protection to babies who survive abortions. Obama is just wrong" from email@example.com— Jonathan Weisman (@jonathanweisman) October 31, 2012
From Washington City Paper's Mike Madden:
Just got this random anti-Obama text message from "firstname.lastname@example.org": twitter.com/mikemadden/sta...— Mike Madden (@mikemadden) October 31, 2012
The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis:
So these seem to be going around tonight... twitter.com/mikedebonis/st...— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) October 31, 2012
As CNN's Jim Spellman discovered, you can't even reply to the mysterious messages:
A new low for these political campaigns: text messages? Please give us a break! #ElectionFatigue twitter.com/jimspellmancnn...— jim spellman (@jimspellmancnn) October 30, 2012
As the Los Angeles Times explained in September, whoever is sending the texts is exploiting a legal loophole. It's illegal to send unsolicited, automated texts, but it is apparently within the bounds of the law to send them as emails. That's why the sender appears as an email, even though recipients view them as texts. Adding insult to injury, recipients are charged for the messages just like regular texts. (Although all of these shots are iPhones, at least one Android user has received the texts as well.)
The messages run a gamut of domestic issues, and don't seem to discriminate by as to fiscal or social issues: entitlements, abortion, and gay rights are among the reported texts. And it's tough to tell who exactly is receiving the messages, since Washington-area journalists are probably disproportionately represented among Twitter users. But they do seem to be bearing the brunt of the messages. If so, that makes for poor electioneering, since they're unlikely to be swayed by the texts. As NPR's David Folkenflik snarked it:
After 20+ yrs as a reporter, I can unequivocally say there's no more authoritative source than an unsolicited & anonymous text message.— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) October 31, 2012
If, on the other hand, the goal is attention, it's a clever stratagem.
Have you received any anonymous attack texts? What did they say? Let us know as we track the story.
Update: Atlantic contributor Philip Bump has been collecting data via an informal online survey (you can add your info here). Of the roughly 30 messages he's logged so far, all of them have been in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. Most of them are to registered voters -- all of them either Democrats or independents.