President Trump Can Send Unblockable Texts to All Americans-Truth! & Fiction!

Summary of eRumor:

President-elect Donald Trump will be able to use the FCC’s Emergency Alert System to send unblockable text messages to all Americans whenever he pleases.

The Truth:

Claims that Donald Trump will be able to text all Americans whenever he wants to, whether they like it or not, are a combination of truth and fiction.

First, it should be noted that Trump has made to mention of abusing the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to send unblockable text messages to all Americans whenever he wants.

At this point the rumor is purely speculation, and it appears to be based on a New York magazine story that appeared under the headline, “Starting January 20, Donald Trump Can Send Unblockable Mass Text Messages to the Entire Nation,” which picked up the story from Twitter user Chris Lawrence:

 

First, let’s take a step back and look at how the WEA system was made possible. It was authorized under the Warning Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act of 2006. An FAQ posted at the FCC’s website explains:

WEA is a public safety system that allows customers who own certain wireless phones and other enabled mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area. The technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. WEA (formerly known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN)) was established pursuant to the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act.

The FCC goes on to explain that WEA alerts cover only “critical emergency situations” and can include alerts from the president, Amber Alerts for missing children, and alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life. The WEA system, by design, allows wireless customers to block some alerts — but not those issued by the president:

Can I block WEA alerts?

Partially. Participating wireless carriers may offer subscribers with WEA-capable handsets the ability to block alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life and/or AMBER Alerts; however, consumers cannot block emergency alerts issued by the President.

Why can’t consumers block WEAs issued by the President?

In passing the WARN Act, Congress allowed participating carriers to offer subscribers the capability to block all WEAs except those issued by the President.

So, the FCC states that the alerts can be used only in “critical emergency situations,” but it does not go any further in describing what situations would qualify. The original WARN Act doesn’t provide any clarity either. Rather, it called for an advisory committee to come up with standards for the WEA system within 180 days of passage.

And, according to an FCC notice of rule making, regulations were drafted to ensure that WEA was used only as an “emergency” alerting system “because if the public were to receive alerts that did not relate to bona fide emergencies, it would risk increasing consumer opt out.”

A FEMA FAQ goes further by stating that presidential alerts can only be used “during a national emergency,” and reports from 2011 narrow the definition of allowable presidential alerts even further as “alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life as in the case of some sort of attack or natural disaster.”

So, it’s true that Donald Trump could send mass text messages to Americans in limited circumstances like a national emergency, natural disaster or situations involving imminent threats — but not whenever he wants to.

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Collected on: 12/01/2016