“Your early vote has not been recorded,” one text message said, with a link for more information.
Other messages tell voters they are not registered, or offer unverified information about a political opponent.
Fraudulent messages like these are drawing attention as political campaigns ramp up data collection and voter targeting using their own technology to circumvent restrictions imposed by social media platforms following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Facebook barred apps which scraped data on users and their contacts after revelations about the now-defunct British consulting group. But in response, President Donald Trump’s campaign and some activist groups are using their own methods.
“What we are seeing is almost more potent than in 2016,” said Samuel Woolley, a University of Texas professor who leads propaganda research at the school’s Center for Media Engagement
Woolley’s team, which examined messages such as the above-referenced ones, found that the Trump mobile app, and to
Campaigns and elections have always been about data—underneath the empathetic promises to fix your problems and fight for your family, it’s a business of metrics. If a campaign is lucky, it will find its way through a wilderness of polling, voter attributes, demographics, turnout, impressions, gerrymandering, and ad buys to connect with voters in a way that moves or even inspires them. Obama, MAGA, AOC—all have had some of that special sauce. Still, campaigns that collect and use the numbers best win.
That’s been true for some time, of course. In 2017, Hillary Clinton lamented that the Democratic National Committee had supplied her team with out-of-date data. She blamed this in part for her loss to Donald Trump, whose campaign sat atop an impressive Republican data-crunching machine. (The DNC retorted that it wasn’t the data, but how it was used, that was inadequate.)