SALT LAKE CITY — Many Utahns checked their cellphones over the past month and found a text from a campaign in advance of the June 30 primary elections.
Some may have been welcome, others not so much. But they left many Utahns wondering: How did this campaign even get my number? And how do I make the texts stop?
Thomas Peters is the CEO of RumbleUp, a peer-to-peer (or P2P) texting company that primarily aides Republican campaigns. He traces the rise of the P2P industry to Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential run, when his campaign worked with Hustle to reach voters on their phones.
Hustle at first worked with campaigns across the political spectrum, Peters said, but eventually cut ties with its Republican clients. "I just saw it as a golden opportunity," Peters told KSL.com, "to provide the same proven services to a center-right political community."
But is the practice even legal?
The legal framework for the P2P texting industry comes from the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which Peters called a "pretty outdated law" that could use some updating. Nonetheless, based on that 29-year-old legislation, P2P companies can operate legally given one stipulation: that they're sending messages one at a time using actual humans.
"That's what differentiates our software from a robo-texting platform," Peters explained, "where one button, when pressed, issues a text message to multiple people, including up to millions."
And because the texts are sent by humans, there's an easy way to get them to stop — reply "stop." That should work, Peters said, "as long as the client is using a reputable peer-to-peer texting company." He admits there are some bad actors out there, though, who ignore or work around these requests. The Federal Communications Commission and the phone carriers are working to better enforce citizens' opt-out requests, he said. "They are differentiating between good actors and bad actors in the ecosystem."
Replying "stop" is the best way to end the messages because it actually blocks them at a phone carrier level, Peters said, but the human senders should also manually remove recipients who reply with any sort of language that "implies they're not interested in receiving the message."
"The volunteers have a tool to very easily, manually, mark that person as opting out," he said. "If we see clients not enforcing that as a best practice, then we have a conversation with them about what they should be doing."
As far as how RumbleUp clients get voter cellphone numbers in the first place, Peters said many voters list cellphones as their primary number in their voter registration file. The Republican and Democratic parties also maintain national voter files, Peters said.
Peters said the rise of P2P in this particular cycle can be attributed to the challenges of campaigning during a pandemic. "Now campaigns can't do canvassing door-to-door in many places," he said. And the method is effective — 90% of text messages are opened within five minutes, Peters said, far surpassing the rate at which an email might get viewed. So to Peters' mind, P2P texting isn't going anywhere.
But for Utahns who aren't interested, replying "stop" should do the trick.