BOSTON – A messaging company run by one of President Donald Trump’s top campaign officials sent thousands of anonymous text messages, aimed at urging backers to rally to vote count in Philadelphia on Thursday, false claim that Democrats are trying to steal the presidential election.
Messages guiding Trump fans gathered at a downtown intersection, where hundreds of protesters from the opposition candidate’s camps faced off on Thursday afternoon. Pennsylvania is an important battlefield state where former Vice President Joe Biden took the lead on Friday and in a later televised speech predicted a win would bring him the title of general. system.
“This kind of message is playing with fire, and we̵7;re very fortunate that it doesn’t seem to be causing any additional pulses,” said John Scott-Railton, senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Online Laboratory. sudden ”. Scott-Railton helped with traceability.
Two people familiar with the matter spoke on the condition that they were unidentified indicating the texts were sent by the text messaging platform’s rented phone number Opn Sesame. The company’s CEO is Gary Coby, the digital director of the Trump campaign. It provides text messaging services to GOP clients including the Republican National Committee.
“WARNING: Liberals and radicals are trying to steal this election from Trump! We need you! “The text said, directing the recipient to” show your support “on a street corner near the Philadelphia Convention Center, where votes are being counted and tensions are rising.
A top Trump campaign official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the message did not come from the campaign. Since Opn Sesame is used by many customers, none of them will be able to identify the company information, it is impossible to determine exactly who sent the message. Coby declined to comment.
Opn Sesame’s connection to text messages was first reported by The Washington Post.
Among those who received the assembled text was Chris Bray, who lived in rural Bucks County, about 25 miles outside Philadelphia.
A subscriber on the Independent said he voted for Biden, Bray said he was surprised to see the message pop up on his phone as he had never signed up for anything related to the campaign. run by Trump.
“I actually texted some other friends saying ‘hey, have you got messages from robots like this yet?’” Bray said on Friday. call to action. It’s based on the rhetoric we’ve been hearing for months now and that’s really dangerous if you meet the right person with a slight screw, we don’t know what could happen. “
On Thursday night, two men were arrested near the convention center for carrying handguns without a license, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. District attorney Larry Krasner said there was no indication that they were part of an extremist group. Their vehicles carry window stickers for the QAnon right-wing conspiracy theory and an AR-style rifle and ammunition inside, Outlaw said.
Company vice president Giulia Porter said text messages were sent using 13 different phone numbers identified by RoboKiller, a mobile application that allows users to block spam messages and voicemail. RoboKiller traces the numbers to Twilio, a portal for mass messaging services.
After being notified, Twilio turned off the phone numbers, saying in a statement that the messages were “sent without the consumer’s denial language, which is completely against our policy”. . A company spokesperson declined to comment further.
Around 80 million political text messages have been sent daily since September in the US – many of them from the Trump faction echoing his unfounded claims that Democrats are trying to steal the election , said RoboKiller’s Porter. They are highly targeted.
Political messaging campaigns can exploit similar flaws in telecommunications infrastructure that allow robots to hide their origins. They can forge the numbers they call and automatically roll out thousands of messages with just one click.
Opn Sesame made millions as a hub of text messaging efforts for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee during this election cycle, a Republican digital strategist said the person was on condition of anonymity for fear of political punishment.
Facebook and Twitter tore down misinformation during election preparations, making text messages and electronic calls more appealing to those looking to spread the wrong message. when direct danger comes to voters over their phone.
Sam Woolley, a miscalculation and misinformation researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, said: “The extent to which these companies rely on loopholes and lack of regulation in this area has been amazement.
“They really want to avoid the need to rely on social media companies, which is why they use these private mechanisms,” he added. “They are using technologies that we don’t think are particularly new, texting, calling, but using them in very Machiavellian ways. “