Last year, Revolution Messaging Partner and resident soothsayer, Arun Chaudhary, followed up on his amazing prediction for 2013 (Bill de Blasio would be elected Mayor of NYC), with another prescient prognostication that “Ukranian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko will be freed in 2014.”
Unfortunately, not all the forecasts were quite as flawless (looking at you, Sam Lozier): “Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida will elect new Democratic Governors.” But one thing is for sure; the conjecture coming from the crystal ball this year has something for everyone.
Alison: Instagram was the talk of the town after Facebook acquired it for $1 billion as part of their mobile strategy. As much as I agree with College Humor’s “Look at this Instagram” (Nickelback Parody), many now are using Instagram (instead of Facebook and Twitter) as their primary social network.
David: You Don’t Know Jack. Nostalgia takes first place with a fantastic re-tooling of an addictive classic trivia game that utilizes a smart pricing system. It uses Facebook to cleverly fake the multiplayer experience by recording friends’ scores and creating the illusion that you play against them.
Eden: Mint, a savvy financial planning app that makes budgeting as fun as it can be (hint: not very).
Gabe: Canistream.it – This should really be called “is it possible to watch this movie right now without leaving the comfort of my couch?” It is also available as a mobile app to aid in mobile video consumption.
Jeff: OmniFocus. I have barely scratched the surface of what this app can do and I am already more organized at work and at home.
Jen: Duolinguo, a language learning app and website, has been my favorite of the year. In addition to teaching you a new language, the website allows users to translate and vote on text from the web.
Kate: Pinterest. After a few major overhauls, they finally created an app that allows users to repin, upload pins from photos on their phones and pin from mobile web easily.
Kayla: RunKeeper. As an avid runner and on a budget, I didn’t want to spend the money on one of those fancy GPS watches that track your distance and pace. Luckily, RunKeeper does both, as well as integrates with their online UI so you can manage your information at your computer as well.
Keegan: Ingress is the first app that has ever made exercise fun for me. While it is only available for Android, as it expands it is going to introduce a large number of people to the possibilities of augmented reality.
Rich: A refreshing trend of 2012 has been the humanization and demystification of our public officials, even when it’s less than flattering. The best example I can think of is Sunlight Foundation’s Politiwhoops. A definitive list of tweets posted – and deleted – by public officials, it gives us insight into the slip-ups and goofs of politicians and their staffs.
Sam: This isn’t very new, but the latest version of Google Maps for iPhone. The turn-by-turn directions and up to the minute traffic updates are awesome and far better than the maps feature Apple provides.
Scott: Burner – Let’s be honest, you don’t always want to give out your phone number. I would also like to highlight a past pick with TripIt. It is still the best way to organize all of your flight, hotel & car rental information in one place!
Walker: Github.com. I’ve been a member since 2008, but I don’t see this treading water or going away! It’s only going to get bigger and better as developers start getting designers on it to help them make open source software more user-friendly.
Prediction for 2013
Walker: 2013 will be the first year we see actual competition to the current Apple-domination in the mobile arena. Other companies were playing catch-up. These companies and others have the wares that finally begin to compete in user-friendliness and usability. As a side prediction: I think Ballmer will finally get ejected (or kindly swept aside) at Microsoft.
Scott: 2013 will be a true mobile revolution for politics. Campaigns will not only have to think about how email displays on a mobile phone, but also make sure their websites are mobile friendly. They will need to think more about how busy their target audience is while watching political ads on very small screens. The most successful campaigns will come to terms with the fact that news is being spread at 140 to 160characters at a time and videos are being consumed at 15-second intervals instead of 60-second intervals.
Sam: Mobile giving will become an even bigger success in 2013. Not just for non-profits, but also for political campaigns as the ability to fundraise over mobile devices becomes easier.
Rich: Many events of the past year have people concerned with public safety, both because of large-scale incidents such as Newtown and Aurora, and on a more personal level, the start-up of organizations like ihollaback.org. I predict more will be done to bring mobile technology into reporting and responding to incidents. Apps which can be activated with a single touch or voice command, can notify first responders with the location and details of an incident, or in the case of harassment, can flag an individual perpetrator as a public or private warning to others.
Keegan: Analyzing data to make smarter decisions will no longer be an option for organizations, it will become the standard in 2013. As a result, I expect the messages that reach us, and the experiences that shape our day-to-day lives, to become smarter.
Kayla: I believe that in 2013 cable will become obsolete for many more people since we all have the ability to watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube and more on our Wiis and other similar devices. These services are either much cheaper or free.
Kate: Many more types of mobile video ads. It will be the most interesting to see if consumers are excited by this form of advertising, or are irritated by the fact that a video plays in between every move they make on Words with Friends or before every story they read on ESPN.
Jen: A new type of community-based organizing will emerge. Service workers will start to build power and demand respect from their employers with help from communities, unions and student activists. A large part of their success will be due to relationship building and traditional organizing techniques, facilitated by social media and mobile technology.
Jeff: The mobile space is going to go through serious growing pains. It will split deeper into different camps between web apps and native apps, and the losers will be the end users. We will see a greater adoption of Windows Phone and even more fragmentation of Google’s Android operating system.
Gabe: 2013 will be the year that the rest of your stuff connects to the Internet and starts to learn; all of it monitored and controlled by your smart phone. The Nest Learning Thermostat got the formula right in 2012; other “dumb” appliances will follow suit.
Eden: While 2012 was a very successful year for women, 2013 will see increased attention on very serious and basic women’s rights, particularly the failed passage of the Violence Against Women Act and the upcoming 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 2013 will be the year that women fight back with new tactics.
David: Cable companies will be forced to re-evaluate their subscription services and admit once and for all that people want to watch what they want, when they want it, on the device of their choosing. Intel is allegedly introducing a set top box that will allow people to finally subscribe to a cable a la carte with cloud based DVR.
Arun: I have three – Bill de Blasio will be Mayor of NYC, Castro will live, 3D movies will die (again).
Alison: Microsoft’s Windows 8 devices will not take off and their response to the rise of the mobile web will continue to disappoint. Apple will remain king in tablet sales, despite the impressive new Windows tablet with keyboard cover, Microsoft Surface.
On Wednesday, we witnessed an unprecedented collaboration on the Internet as people throughout the country contributed in their own way to the SOPA and PIPA protest. People contributed through blacking out websites, tweeting or posting links and calls to action on Facebook, signing petitions and setting up tools online to easily call Congress – a whole country sent an unmistakable and nearly unanimous message to the Hill.
Ironically, while this is the biggest online protest in history, it is also the type of action that the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) would restrict. These two bills claim they would stop piracy and would implement harsher penalties on companies or individuals violating copyright laws online, but in effect, the outcome would put legitimate websites at risk with its vague use of language. If these bills pass, user-generated websites, the most well known being Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia, would have to monitor everything going through their sites, risking being shut down if something slips through the cracks.
But because we have the freedom we do, those who use the Internet everyday, who maintain the sites we all rely on (how many times do you read Wikipedia a day? Be honest), who are responsible for cultivating the inner webs, ran an innovative, groundbreaking, and most importantly, successful protest.
Our lives revolve around the Internet, our phones and any other way we can find to digitally connect. So while people may criticize all the work being done behind a computer and deem it passive, yesterday’s example is living proof that an online movement inspired millions of people to take action and make sure their voice was heard. We are becoming a more interactive society and the Internet is a main supporting force in that, encouraging people to become involved and engaged.
This protest was yet another turning point for using the Internet to drive offline action. Seattle Against SOPA took the time to write, record and produce a video in opposition to the bills by covering Don Mclean’s “American Pie.” This offline action then came full circle as it became viral online and was a solid example of how, if SOPA and PIPA were passed, we would no longer have the ability to express our opinions and messages through creative means. It is work like this that the legislation could go after and those who produced this video could find themselves in jail for up to five years.
The protest was truly a team effort. The Revolution joined the strike by blacking out our website and urging people to call Congress in opposition of PIPA.
(There’s still time! Call 866-279-7472 to tell your senator to oppose PIPA!)
Along with Revolution Messaging, other big names that participated included Wikipedia, Reddit, Mozilla, and even Congressmen and women, such as Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat. The reaction was exceptional; Google alone saw over 4 million people sign their petition by 3pm on Wednesday.
These two bills are losing support from both the left and right, each acknowledging the threat it poses: removing our right to freedom of speech. The power of the Internet and online organizingcame together for a successful campaign, and the potential for censoring our online activity is slowly eroding.
Post Secret put it best: Under SOPA, you could get 5 years for uploading a Michael Jackson song, one year more than the doctor who killed him.
2011 was the year that mobile made social media for real! Up until this year, there were a number of critics charging that social media was incapable of driving change. Their argument made sense as long as people were tethered to a computer, but now a huge number of people are interacting with their social network only through their phone. Whether it is from the bathroom, while grabbing dinner with friends or out protesting an injustice – you are able to get real-time updates about what matters to you wherever you are.
Egypt. Wisconsin. Wall Street. In these places, and many, many more locations, those outraged were communicating and organizing thanks to their smartphones. SMS continued to prove invaluable for driving action as many faced problems with the data connections on their phone (whether nefarious or from congestion) – highlighting the importance of including text messaging as part of any social media strategy.
It is difficult to imagine what new movements, technology and trends we will see in 2012. So we decided to give that challenge to our staff. See below for our staff 2012 predictions as well as their best of 2011 picks. Please also share yours with us by texting them to 738674 (REVMSG), tweeting them @revmsg or sharing them at facebook.com/revmsg.
Favorite App or Website of 2011
Alison: Twitter. Even though it has been around a while, this was the year that skeptics finally woke up and realized that Twitter can be a catalyzing force in social movements.
Courtney: Brand new Uber- towncars come directly to you in major cities, love it! And personally, “My Pregnancy” for letting me know what size vegetable my pre-born kid is each week.
David: Angry Birds became available in the iOS App Store in 2009. Two years, 2 retails stores and huge merchandise sales later, the game’s anonymous protagonists have become the most popular marketable video game characters since Pac-Man or, possibly, Mario.
Doug: Favorite Site – Daring FireBall: John Gruber is fast becoming our generation’s Walt Mossberg, making clear the meaning behind tech headlines and dispatching wannabe pundits. Favorite App – HBO Go on iPad: Finally, HBO subscribers get the love the deserve with access to *all* HBO content on their device; Springpad: Simple, easy, cloud-based and multi-device-friendly task management.
Kayla: Storify. This new website allows both individuals and large news organizations to group together different social media posts, such as tweets, images, and Facebook updates, and create a story with added commentary.
Sam: I was initially a skeptic of Spotify, but thought I would try it out and have enjoyed every minute of my experience. Upgrading to a premium account is well worth the money when you are working from your laptop all day.
Scott: The parkmobile app. Even though it won’t completely prevent many of us from getting parking tickets, it makes it a lot easier to feed a meter (and it is great to see the DC Gov embracing the convenience of mobile technology)!
Walker: Not an app, per se, but node.js came into it’s own in 2011 and showed that it’s got power. Microsoft threw their corporate weight behind the project and now you can run node.js on Windows Azure servers.
Predictions for 2012
Alison: The Google+ Hangout feature will continue to catch on – organizers will initiate hangouts from their phones and will broadcast their hangouts on YouTube. These more personal interactions will propel movements forward.
Courtney:Campaigns will recognize and embrace mobile technology during the election season, particularly as a way to bridge traditional outreach (yard signs) with social media outreach.
David: #1 – Steve Jobs legacy will continue to bring Apple great success through the next year, though I don’t expect an iPhone 5. #2 – SOPA will soon rear its ugly head again.
Doug: The rise of social commerce. Checking in = Cash becomes increasingly common. See AMEX/FourSquare arrangement for a preview of this trend.
Jason: Twitter and Facebook were critical to the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. The problem is that authorities are also using these tools to track protesters. Smaller, more agile messaging tools are springing up and could become big in 2012. No frills Vibe is being used by the Occupy movement to spread anonymous messages to limited areas (whisper, speak, shout, whistle, yell and bellow) for a period of time as short as 15 minutes. You can tell those people who are close to you about the action you’re going to take anonymously and not leave a trace.
Kayla: Customer Service through Twitter. This is already happening slowly, but in 2012 customers will expect it from businesses and organizations.
Keegan: The strength of social media also creates its greatest weakness – the ability to insulate yourself with information that is only friendly to your set of beliefs. While it is so much easier to communicate with those that are like-minded, 2012 will bring a new set of challenges to people trying to use social media for the purposes of persuasion. The GOP in particular will face a difficult time both keeping up the radical message they need to keep their base fired up online, and appealing to independent and moderate voters. They will lose the House of Representatives because of this.
Rich: More and more people will be using enough devices in their day-to-day that services/apps for syncing logins, stored data and history will become a virtual necessity. Though this isn’t a new concept, it will become more widely adopted as users get tired of logging into every single service. The patchwork of services that sync one thing or another merely adds to this complexity most of the time, giving users one more password to remember and type into a tiny onscreen keyboard or binding them to using one manufacturer’s technology. By the end of the year, any piece of data not accessible on every device in a user’s pocket or on their desk will seem as anachronistic as a carrier-pigeon. Sam: Sports will be a driving force in mobile marketing for 2012. I think a deal will be made between app developers and NFL television networks to stream games live through smartphone apps.
Scott: As celebrities control their own social media presence in greater numbers… these unique individuals with a passionate base will become more of a political force (Democrats and Republicans will be held accountable by these new social media armies).
Walker: 2012 will be the year of machine learning. We’ll expect more of all of our applications. They should always be learning what our personal preferences are, where we usually go, what we need and when we need it.
For the record, the staff here at Revolution Messaging is pretty split on the effectiveness of QR codes. Some think they are a waste of time; others, like me, think they can be pretty effective (but I’ve yet to see one that really works well). So I was very excited to see ads on TV that Macy’s is rolling out a mobile program that features their QR code. Not only is Macy’s advertising their mobile program on TV, but they have their big name celebrities behind it too.
So this weekend, I visited the Macy’s in Downtown Washington, DC to check out their program.
In the TV ads, the QR code is shown on a big display at the front of the store. In reality, the first QR code was in the vestibule and I missed it when I walked in. I eventually saw it on my way out of the store.
In my search for a QR code, I saw a seven-foot tall, three tiered poster near the exit. One concern I mentioned prior to arriving at Macy’s, was that in many thick-walled malls, cell phone reception can get spotty, so a program that depends on cell service comes with risks that users simply won’t be able to access their phones.
This display was near a glass door, so cell service was probably not an issue.
So this vertical display has room for three posters. The top one had a QR code, the middle poster did not but the one on the floor did. That seemed to confuse me since my friend who was 5’4” had to reach up to access the top code and crane her neck to read the instructions. Simply putting the code in the middle of the display would allow a shopper of average height or those in wheelchairs the ability to scan the code and read the directions easier. The code on the floor makes no sense since no on is going to bend over to scan it.
Not all phones have a QR reader. To allow shoppers to access the QR code fun, Macy’s provides shoppers with the ability to text in for more information. The problem is no one proofread the language.
The language in bold was bolded on the signage:
See what it’s all about on your smart phone.
Scan this code or text thanx to 62297 (MACYS).
Download a QR code scanner (if you haven’t already) by texting reader to 62297.
Message and data rates may apply.
Macy’s is providing instructions to people who aren’t comfortable with QR codes and SMS programs. Make it simpler – don’t use the word thanx, use the uppercase THANKS or another short, simple word. Chances are auto correct is going to change thanx to thanks anyway.
Also, be consistent. Why is thanx bold, but reader isn’t? Capitalize and bold that too. I had to read it twice to figure out that the word reader was the keyword for this program.
Please make the program simple.
So now the good: After I found the QR code and scanned it, it worked. My phone asked my permission to go to Macy’s mobile page and a video started playing on my BlackBerry. Let me repeat, a video played on my BlackBerry! Video rarely works on my phone, so I was thrilled to see it work.
Back to the bad: I was also kind of embarrassed to walk around the store with my BlackBerry blaring a commercial so I stayed by the door and watched a few more seconds of the video. This is probably not great for foot traffic. Also, I got bored quickly and stopped watching.
Some advice: Use the code to highlight some of the new goods in the store; have Martha Stewart or Diddy or an actor hired to play a sales associate tell me what’s new this week and prompt me to ask an employee where I can find it. See if sales on the item increase. After all, that’s your intention, to sell more product. If you see an increase in revenue, you’ve got yourself a successful program!
Macy’s, you deserve credit for running this program. As a fan of mobile programs and QR codes, I think what you’re doing is great. You just need to tweak the program slightly and you could have a winner.
Everyday there seems to be a story about enhancing our organizing techniques in new and interesting ways. Yet, despite the advances made possible by new media, it also creates added challenges. The Internet is filled with fabricated information and it’s often purposely created to meet a political end – the fallout can be very damaging. Once people read a message from several sources, or their friends, the information becomes “common knowledge” and is accepted as fact.
One way organizations try to insert their message into the public conscience is through astroturfing or cashroots. The purpose of astroturfing is to create a false sense of popular support for an idea or person. It’s the manufactured form of grassroots. It can be paying people to canvass or having people send a stock letter to the editor of their local paper. Sometimes their deception is more blatant than that. For example, in 2009, Bonner and Associates used NAACP letterhead, forged signatures, and sent them in to Representative Tom Perriello pressing him to vote against clean energy reform. Techniques like this now run rampant on the Internet.
Corporations and governments create fake personas, also known as sockpuppets, to digitally astroturf. They make several accounts on social media sites or they comment on blogs, manufacturing broad support or disapproval for an idea. Astroturfers deceive indirectly through a false perception of widespread support and directly by spreading lies or linking to a website containing false information.
Luckily we do not have to sit idly by and watch these deceptions continue. Truthy, a system crafted by The Indiana University Center for Complex Networks & Systems Research, analyzes and maps data distribution on Twitter. Their first study, Detecting and Tracking the Spread of Astroturf Memes in Microblog Streams, developed technology to identify harmful Twitter users. These are the users that astroturf, disseminate misinformation, and smear people that oppose them.
The folks behind Truthy collect data from Twitter and analyze the method of delivery to determine whether it’s astroturfing or genuine accounts. They identify a particular piece of information and create visualization for how it was shared on Twitter. These images help identify the “truthiness” (a term coined by Stephen Colbert: it is claimed to be true based on emotion or feeling and not on evidence or fact) of a tweet. They do this by displaying the direction and distribution of information flow, i.e. how many users tweet or retweet the information, where the tweets originate from, and how many times a tweet is retweeted among the originators.
Below are some examples of these visualizations. Black dots are Twitter accounts that post the information, blue is a retweet, and orange is a mention.
If the information seems to have spread in a misleading way, such as the originators tweeting only one message or only following users who retweet their message, then it is labeled as truthy.
Despite innovations in the field of astroturf detection, companies and governments are becoming more sophisticated in avoiding the appearance of being truthy. Last February, the Daily Kos reported on a leaked HBGary email. As they describe it, HBGary is creating an “army of sockpuppets,” or what the company calls “persona management.”
Persona management involves software that automatically creates a whole fake identity online. It provides an astroturfer with online identities, equipped with everything they need to look real. The personas have emails, web pages, accouns on Twitter or Myspace, and even full names for Facebook and LinkedIn, giving the appearance of a real person. The software can then update these profiles, reposting and retweeting information from other sites. Companies and governments then have “pre-aged” accounts they can use to overpower the narrative on the Internet. Scary stuff.
Thankfully it does not seem that the voice of the people has been drowned out yet. We have to continue developing technology like Truthy to counter it and preserve online democracy. Yet, the technology will not be enough. It is essential that we engage with these tools and report astroturfing wherever we see it. Source Watch, an online encyclopedia where anyone can report on manipulation of public opinion, is a great place to start.
Derek Johnson, founder and CEO of Tatango, wrote yesterday in an op-ed on Mobile Marketing Watch that he has been having nightmares of where the SMS industry is headed:
“Recently I’ve been having horrible nightmares. These nightmares aren’t the kind I had when I was a child though, these are much worse. These nightmares take me into the future and give me a glimpse of what the SMS industry has become.”
We addressed this problem in 2010 and while we can say we’ve had the same nightmares, we can also unfortunately say we’ve seen it start to happen outside of the dream world. We wrote about this issue a while back when Republican campaigns used SMS spamming to suppress votes in the 2010 election. After buying and illegally uploading mobile phone numbers to their own list, Republican campaigns sent out SMS spam messages through emailing the phone numbers by Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). This completely bypassed the legal measure of consumers opting-in to a mobile list they want to receive information from and whether they wanted it or not, their phones were inundated with messages.
Johnson continues with a detailed look into his nightmares, which are too close to reality for comfort:
“My nightmares always start with the consumer. I see consumer after consumer grow frustrated with the concept of ‘SMS marketing.’ I watch as their phones beep every few minutes signaling the arrival of another unwanted SMS advertisement. Parents take their mobile phones into the stores requesting SMS be removed as a feature, while children become immune to the flood of SMS spam, just as in present day I’ve become immune to email SPAM. What hurts me the most is that I hear business owners joke to their cohorts that it’s now referred to as ‘SMS spamming’, not ‘SMS marketing’.”
You can read more about Johnson’s nightmare here, but we must listen to his plea for SMS providers to come together:
“So to answer the question, ‘who’s killing SMS marketing?,’ it’s unfortunately the same people that are trying to promote it, the SMS providers. This piece is more of a call to action, than it is a blog post. Starting today, I’m calling for all SMS providers to band together and put a stop to this self-destructive practice. If we don’t act now, my nightmares will soon become our harsh reality.”
We would like to make the same ask. This is not a competition and we must work together to meet Derek Johnson’s call to action.
On April 13th, Revolution Messaging, a social media firm in Washington, D.C., launched “Are you my Rep?” a Facebook page that encourages D.C. residents to call members of Congress and ask them to support voting rights for D.C. citizens.
The Facebook page, available at http://www.facebook.com/myrep, allows visitors to enter their phone number into a form field, generating a call-back. The call connects participants to a random Congressional office, so they may ask if the Representative is willing to support D.C autonomy or voting rights.
Users of the page are encouraged to share feedback as well as share the page with their friends and co-workers. Over 600,000 Washington, D.C. residents find themselves without a voting representative in Federal government, making DC laws and budget issues vulnerable to Congressional oversight.
“It’s really ridiculous that Washington, D.C. residents have their own elected government, and yet Congress has the ability to overturn the laws agreed upon by DC citizens,” said Courtney Sieloff, Senior Strategist for Revolution Messaging. “Like anyone living in the 50 states, I pay both local and Federal taxes, but because I choose to live in DC, there is no member of Congress that I can call when I’m upset about a particular issue.”
The Congressional budget battles once again makes residents of Washington, D.C. pawns in a giant chess game. This Facebook page provides an avenue to voice frustration with the outcome of the budget cuts. Revolution Messaging hopes this initiative sparks a conversation that will help DC residents to receive the representation that is standard for all other Americans.
Revolution Messaging is a leader in social media and mobile communications strategies for non-profits and progressive-left political organizations. Our goal is simple: evolve organizing methods and tactics to more effectively and efficiently communicate your message. For more information visit RevolutionMessaging.com or Follow Us on Twitter @RevMsg
Sometimes it can feel like technology is taking over. But now we have an app that puts a stop to technology – at least for 24 hours. The Sabbath Manifesto app, an idea put together by the Jewish organization Reboot, helps you unplug from the world around you – no texting, tweeting, emailing, Facebook checking. It encourages you to go out and reconnect face to face with family and friends – reconnect with the world and disconnect from technology.
The Sabbath Manifest app supports Reboot’s second annual National Day of Unplugging – planned for March 4 to 5 – a 24-hour window to leave your phone behind and enjoy the day technology free. Reboot is using this app as a “modern-spin on the ancient notion of a day of rest.”
To download the app, all you must do is text REBOOT to 738674 and it will be sent directly to your phone. The app allows you to automatically send out messages to friends and family to remind them you are participating in the modern way of rest – a day unplugged. These messages can be sent through Facebook or Twitter, and in return, you will get text messages reminding you when it’s time to observe the Sabbath Manifesto.
The concept of the app is meant to be interpreted differently by each person. One person might use the app to cease texting for a day while another person may avoid all types of cellular technology: emailing, calling, tweeting, etc.
No matter how you choose to use this app and observe the modern day of rest, the Sabbath Manifesto wants to hear your stories, whether you’re taking the challenge solo or observing it as part of a team.
2010 will mark the year that conservative operatives embraced text messaging as another tool for their voter suppression efforts. In at least ten states this election cycle, organizations supporting Republican campaigns used text message spam to bring mobile communications into the gutter and suppress votes. This was done by illegally uploading and broadcasting to mobile phone numbers over SMS and by emailing the phone numbers over SMTP. This new voter suppression tactic threatens to eclipse the positive impact that mobile tools have had in politics in recent years, unless we all work together to stop this now.
**Call 866-529-7620 & ask your State Attorney General to Investigate Text Message Spam**
If we don’t make a stand on this illegal activity now, what is stopping them from using other forms of new media to suppress and disenfranchise voters? New developments in the social media like Foursquare’s GPS-located “I Voted” badge and Facebook’s GOTV wall notices lined all of our feeds and encouraged us to go out and vote. But how about folks who didn’t have the same goal and spirit? What about folks who were looking to use these new tools to dissuade you from voting, spread false information or even worse?
In 2008, one of the fresh new vehicles for political organizing was mobile technology – using text messages to remind voters to vote and to even text-in questions or concerns about voting. Major campaigns and notable political firms worked within strict guidelines to make mobile technologies an asset to the democratic process. And it worked. Voters opted-in to receive breaking political news and campaign updates. They forwarded messages to their friends and became involved, all through their mobile devices.
A simple lesson should have been learned at that time – just because someone can sell you a list of mobile numbers doesn’t mean that those people ever legally opted-in to your campaign’s text message program or want to pay to receive text messages from you. Yet this year conservative operatives took it a step further. So far, this illegal use of text messaging has been reported in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The test of time has shown us how technology can be abused like this. The first people to receive an auto-call from President Bill Clinton asking folks to vote for their local member of Congress in the mid-90’s were excited and told their neighbors to get out and vote! These first generation auto-calls engaged people and increased turnout. But auto-calls quickly went south when right-wing operatives used these calls to deliver false information about a candidate or a campaign without any accountability. After much public outcry and years of horrible abuse and smear campaign after smear campaign … legislation was finally enacted to stop these dirty tactics.
Sadly, a great, inexpensive and effective form of communication for get-out-the-vote reminders turned into a stealth way to spread false rumors, harass people and message undecided voters to drive voter turnout down instead of up.
This year’s abuses are another wake-up call proving that we must keep a watchful eye on how new technologies can be used for both good and evil. We must be vigilant about stopping these unethical tactics before they further poison our democratic apparatus.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), all have very strict guidelines about this. People must explicitly opt-in to a campaign’s mobile program before receiving a message. But this wasn’t the case. The fact that some vendor can sell you a list of people that opted-in to receiving text messages from a “partner” organization does not pass anyone’s guidelines. Here is the difference between buying a text message list and an email list … It cost the user money and therefore they must subscribe to your program directly – it is opt-in by user first – not send them a message first and hope they don’t opt-out!!!
Technology is moving fast, but we can be on guard. Help us take all the necessary legal actions to end these abuses. If extreme groups are violating the law – they must be punished. If they are taking advantage of loopholes that apply to old technology – those loopholes must be examined with consideration to the new technology and closed. Simply put, our governments, our AGs offices and our courts must move as quick as the technology is moving or risk suppressing the votes of many more.
Changes can happen if they are forced by a public outcry. A do-not-call registry was set to begin in 2003, but a court challenge delayed its implementation until 2004. And responding to numerous complaints, the Federal Trade Commission finally stepped in after years of consumer abuses too. They asked a federal court to shut down companies bombarding people with millions of deceptive auto-calls. In the meantime, states have been stepping up, but it has taken years. The Federal Elections Commission has been slow to adopt regulations for a lot of these new technologies but it is forcing disclaimers, authorizations and call back numbers.
Let’s make an impact on text message spam by these third party groups before it gets out of hand. If you got one of these messages, please call 866-529-7620 now – it’s a toll free hotline my firm set up to fight back against these abuses. We’ll simply patch you through to your Attorney General’s office so you can ask them to investigate these issues directly.
We can all use the technology of our time to fight back. I was amazed at watching good friends Ian Inaba, of the Guerilla News Network, and James Rucker, of ColorOfChange.org, organize video bloggers from all around the country to video tape voter suppression tactics in an effort called Video The Vote Back in 2004 and later in 2006. More than 1,300 citizen journalists got involved. They did this at a time when video-bloggers were becoming more and more popular, and the cost of video equipment was becoming cheaper and cheaper. They were able to put a camera on these ugly, under-the radar voter suppression tactics that happened at key targeted polling locations.
Please share your own stories through Twitter and Facebook or with a simple blog post, in addition to reporting incidents to the authorities. We are creating a record of these incidents to shine a bigger light on these under-the radar groups and make sure that the people responsible are held accountable!
Here is a list of the abuses we have discovered so far:
MIDTERM ELECTION TEXT MESSAGE ABUSES BY STATE –COLORADO: “Received a text on my WORK cell phone asking me to call my representative (Betsy Markey) and blame her for the economy.” [Complaint Now Consumer Rules, 10-30-2010]
–DELAWARE: “It’s an outrage … It’s ridiculous. I am a registered Democrat and I feel that my privacy has been violated.” [Dialogue Delaware, 10-30-2010]
–FLORIDA: Grayson for Congress received several calls from people who received that text message and who had not opted-in to receive messages from Americans in Contact PAC (AICPAC). “firstname.lastname@example.org / Alert / Your Congressman Alan Grayson passed Obamacare and failed to create jobs. Tell him your thoughts 407-894-1448″
–MISSOURI: “I don’t have a text plan for my cell phone. I very rarely text anyone. I have to pay for this @#$%&…. And I didn’t sign up for it either.” [Show Me Progress, 10-24-2010]
–NEW YORK: Niskayuna, N.Y. resident Clara Mehserle says she received a text message on her cell phone that said, “Jim Tedisco needs your vote! Polls open until 9 p.m. YOUR VOTE MATTERS. Paid for by Tedisco for Congress.” One large problem was that Mehserle doesn’t live in the 20th Congressional district. She’s a registered Democrat. And she thinks she’ll have to pay for the message because it came from a phone system outside her Verizon network.
–NORTH CAROLINA: Americans in Contact PAC (AICPAC) sent unsolicited text messages to voters in North Carolina’s 11th and 8th Congressional District, according to sources in Buncombe County and the North Carolina Democratic Party. The text contains “negative messages” and gives a return number that goes to Democratic campaign offices. This may be a violation of campaign regulations in that the message does not offer text recipients accurate return contact information.
–PENNSYLVANIA: Americans in Contact PAC (AICPAC) was linked in the past to push polling and potentially illegal auto-calls. Now, they are sending unsolicited text messages to voters in the 6th District trying to scare voters away from Manan Trivedi, D-Pa.
–MINNESOTA: “You don’t expect to get political calls on your cell phone,” said Kline, whose cell phone plan doesn’t include unlimited texting. “I really didn’t think it was legal to send unsolicited text messages.”
Call 866-529-7620 and ask your State Attorney General to investigate text message spam!