A recent article published by Politico about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy also discussed a new plan by White House allies that has left some people worried. The story mentioned that the White House was looking into increasing its fight against vaccine misinformation sent through SMS and text messages. One of the authors of the article later addressed some questions about the story, clarifying a few points that weren’t originally shared.
The Article Is Unclear About Exactly How Misinformation Would Be Countered in Text Messages
Politico reported that groups allied with President Joe Biden would be driving the effort to counter misinformation sent in text messages, but then followed up the statement with a quote from Kevin Munoz, a White House spokesperson.
The article noted:
Biden allied groups, including the Democratic National Committee, are also planning to engage fact-checkers more aggressively and work with SMS carriers to dispel misinformation about vaccines that is sent over social media and text messages. The goal is to ensure that people who may have difficulty getting a vaccination because of issues like transportation see those barriers lessened or removed entirely.
The story did not clarify exactly what tactics will be used, or if the fact-checkers would have access to SMS text messages. The article only mentioned that these groups will be working with SMS carriers to dispel vaccine misinformation sent through texts. An SMS carrier is a wireless service provider, such as AT&T or Verizon.
The Article’s Author Clarified That ‘Allied Groups’ Are Working with the Carriers & Can’t Read Private Texts
Natasha Korecki, one of the authors of the Politico article, shared a few additional details on Twitter about what the text message plan entails.
Korecki responded to one person who said she buried the lede because “DNC reading text messages is pretty damn scary.”
Korecki wrote: “As the story points out, it’s allied, private groups that are working with SMS carriers – not the White House. Even then, there is no ability for groups to read individual texts aside from the ones they receive themselves.”
Another person tweeted: “Just so we’re clear. The government is going to monitor my texts to make sure I don’t say something they don’t like?”
Korecki tweeted: “No. Outside groups are attempting to flag to SMS carriers false information campaigns that are driving misinformation on vaccines.”
So rather than reading private messages, it appears that allied groups might be using fact checkers to alert carriers to when groups are sharing misinformation about vaccines. However, the details of how this would work are still a little vague.
She cited one example of a misinformation campaign, writing: “In one SMS message we reviewed, conservative Charlie Kirk contends (falsely) ‘Biden is sending goons DOOR-TO-DOOR to make you take a Covid-19 vaccine.'”
Still, some Republican lawmakers are sharing concerns. Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted: “Please tell me this is a typo.”
Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted: “So now the Biden Administration wants to get into people’s text messages … to force vaccine compliance and who knows what else.”
To be clear, Korecki said in a later tweet that no one will be able to read private messages. However, the details about the plans mentioned in the article aren’t yet known.