Text-ivism: How your phone number is ending up on political campaign texting lists

Published: Sep. 17, 2019 at 10:19 AM CDT
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Text messages from strangers are the new way political candidates in Louisiana are trying to get ahold of voters. The practice has been dubbed “text-ivism.”

Open Progress, which is a company that uses text-ivism to reach people all over the country, has volunteers who campaign for votes from Baton Rouge residents. A representative for the company, Elizabeth Haynes, says people rarely answer their front door for strangers or accept robocalls anymore and this method works about 10 percent of the time.

“It’s basically a compliment to the on-the-ground work that happens at people’s front doors and on phone calls,” Haynes said.

However, many area residents are left wondering how the company gets personal information in the first place. Haynes says it’s from something as simple as placing an order on Amazon.

“How we got their number is pretty straightforward,” Haynes said. “We start with the public voter file, and then that voter file is then matched to publicly-available and purchasable third-party market lists. So, if you’ve ever given your phone number to Amazon or you’ve ordered a pizza and you put it in for your pizza delivery service, what you don’t realize is that you’ve basically authorized them to sell your data and so that is the primary way we get people’s phone numbers."

Open Progress is one of a handful of companies using text-ivism. Its representatives say people like this method most, as it allows them to control how much interaction they have. But many WAFB viewers wrote on the WAFB Facebook page that they don’t like the tactic.

Robert Mann, a political communication expert and professor at LSU says it’s just a cheap technique for these campaigns.

“It’s easier to just acquire a list and just start blasting it out on it. This is a very cheap way to get your information out,” Mann said. “It’s not like mailing letters. The mail that goes out, sometimes [that] mail can cost 50 cents or more per mail piece. These text messages are just almost nothing.”

Haynes says that the people sending the texts are volunteers, but political campaigns have paid for the Open Progress texting software. She says the company tells people how they’ve acquired their info and if people want to stop receiving messages, they’ll remove them from their lists.

While some may find the messages to be annoying, Haynes and Open Progress insist it’s effective

“It absolutely works,” Haynes said.

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