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The Numbers

Political (SMS) Text Spam and Unsolicited Political Campaign Spam Calls

"They are the enemy."

from The Telemarketing Scum Page

This is part of the web article Political (SMS) Text Spam and Unsolicited Spam Calls. This details the strategy of political text spam and harassment calls, and more particularly, how listing spam attacks and harassment on social media affects that strategy. "It's the numbers."

Basically, posting reports of candidates using SMS spam and unsolicited calls as a campaign tactic:

  1. Exposes the use of this harassment to the general electorate; and
  2. Conveys the message that they are the enemy. This is how the candidate truly regards the constituents. Ths is "who they are".

Re-phrased, they "shared" your personal information, so "share" the fact that they are using this tactic.

The Numbers (the strategy of political spam)

It's all in the numbers. Political campaigns focus on their own supporters -- often called "Get out the vote" (GOTV).[1]  This is particularly relevant in SMS text messages, which pretty much contain no salient information. Phone messages may occasionaly contain "negative information" but are still pretty much targeted to supporters.

Compounding this, SMS text and phone harassment is known to be regarded with some hostility. The campaigns rely on the presumption that one's own supporters are less likely to change their support to the other side, but (taken alone) one's own supporters are unlikely to defect, and perhaps more likely to vote.sup>[1]  So the idea is, "Increase the vote and ***k those people who don't like the harassment."

It's cheap, but it only works if the harassment is limited to the candidate's supporters and the resentment is kept at a level that does not encourage the victims to vote for opponents. (This is why posting to social media is a "poison pill" to these harassment campaigns).

There are exceptions, especially when a high-profile election generates more phone harassment attacks than mosquitos in an arctic summer. Once that happens, the only thing to do is to wait for it to end, or try to identify the least-hostile candidate (based on phone and text harassment)

"Poison Pill" Strategies

In many election races, there is a large percentage of voters that are not familiar with many of the candidates. If thes people, and "undecided" voters in general have a list of candidates who have a level of contempt for citizens represented by their participation in SMS text spam and similar unsolicited messages, that may become a convenient list of candidates not to vote for.

Posting instances of SMS text attacks and other phone harassment to social media:

  1. moves the visibility of these attacks from the narrowly-targeted group to the larger electorate; and
  2. presents a convenient don't vote for these ****s list for people to read.
Political campaign data harvesters are likely to be able to link voter registration data with political interests and harvested personal information. It is difficult to protect this data and nearly impossible to convince data harvesting businesses to expunge it. The strategy is to feed bad data. This tactic is effective because automated data harvesting algorithms terminate a data search when it arrives at a credible result. If an automated data harvesting algorithm continued beyond arriving at a credible result, that would likely diminish the quality of the harvested data.   So...

The idea is to provide bad data to the obvious data sources, which are:

  1. Data harvesters you know you engaged with; e.g., on-line activist organisations.
  2. Data harvesters that look familiar, and which you may have used. Examples are on-line activist organisations. You may not remember responding to their "Save the Single Puppies" campaign, but it is possible that at one time or another you trusted one of these organisations with your personal information. Remember, it is the aggregation of information from multiple sources that data aggegators use against their victims.
  3. Entities that are likely to match your political views in their promotions.
  4. Political parties.
  5. Fundraising wings of political parties - ActBlue and WinRed come to mind (for US). If you donate a small amount (e.g., via paypal, which doesn't cost the political entity much, so even $1 is okay), the data you provide will be resident on their system. If you make a payment with an on-line service (e.g., PayPal), be sure to insert the desired contact data (especially "no-answer" phone number and bogus email address) on the payment entry. (e.g., PayPal provides the default address, but allows the sender to change that data for a donation.)
  6. An entity associated with a segment of the political party, e.g., Club for Growth; various progressive groups.
In particular, that "bad data" you need to provide would be the telephone number and email address.

A boring story...

Blocking text calls can be achieved by:

Typing "stop", "quit", "unsubscribe", "opt-out", or "cancel".
(This makes sense if you actually did subscribe, or if you just want one series to stop -- i.e., if it's a legitimate.) Do not do this with a potential spam generator! If you haven't provided your number, you don't want to confirm it is valid.

Only type "stop" if the message is from a known business you provided your number to. (Replying can confirm your number is valid, which is valuable to scammers, who might sell your data to others.)

Blocking the number at the carrier using the mobile device.
This can be done as an option on the phone's SMS screen or can be separately entered. (I find the SMS screen easier.) On Android it's done from the three-dot icon; on iPhone, I think it's the "info" button opened after tapping the phone number.

Directly asking the subscribing business to remove your number from their list.
... if the number was provided for transaction purposes but permission was never given for using the number for non-transational SMS spam. This expresses your objection to the business' spam support. This may also be the best approach if you expect non-spam SMS messages such as appointment reminders and other transactional SMS messages.

Reporting the call as spam (apparently blocks the number but also goes to a database of some sort).
This is either an option (three-dot icon or "info", or you can forward the message to 7726 ("SPAM" if the phone displays code-a-phone letters).

Using a spam filter app.

Using a spam filter service provided by the carrier.

Limiting SMS to addressbook entries.
This may block legitimate SMS, such as appointment reminders.

This is relevant because (here's the boring story part) these are (obviously) different functions that pretty much do the same thing, particularly with respect to "blocking the number at the carrier" vs. "reporting the call as spam".

So here's what happened...

I've made a habit of reporting all spam SMS messages as (trying to remember...) oh ... as spam. Then I made a restaurant reservation, and the reservation person asked for my mobile number. (I was calling from my mobile, but the reservation person couldn't assume that was my mobile unless I said so.) Instead of saying, "It's this phone. Would you like me to read it back for confirmation?" (Is that even polite?), I just stated my number.

"Our service says it's not a valid text number, so we can't send a message, but you have the reservation."
"Oh. That's probably good news, because..."

I asked the reservation person to read back my number, which allowed me to confirm she got it right.

I of course completed the reservation, because the restaurant didn't consider the SMS service's blacklist relevant to their business, and were not about to ask their customers to get a new phone number. Anyway, they probably had seen "no-go" SMS reports before. My thought was, "How cool is that?" because...

The (pleasant) surprise was that apparently SMS message companies keep lists of spam bounces (or share these), and avoid sending SMS messages to those numbers! The reason is, (especially if they send "SMS blasts") they don't really want their service blocked by a carrier.

What I don't know is the precise source is of this spam SMS blacklist. It is either from a collective list or a list kept by a single SMS "service" involved in spam. It's not clear if this is "bleeding through" from political SMS spam operations or is more closely linked to SMS operations that service businesses. Either way, it seems that these SMS operations have an incentive to keep their phone banks from being blocked by carriers.

Hanging up does not work!

back to Political SMS Text Spam - (this site)

back to Counter-Telemarketing Tactics - (this site)

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originally posted 7-Sep-21   rev 7-Sep-21 Stan Protigal