Are Political Spam Text Messages Legal?

By Andrew Lu on October 04, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that unsolicited automated text messages and political spam are against the law.

Yet voters in Virginia are reportedly still receiving text messages that aren't really text messages. They are seemingly from Democratic candidate Tim Kaine, but not really from Tim Kaine, reports the Los Angeles Times. Confused?

You're not alone. Even more confusing: These "text messages" may be perfectly legal.

Some voters received a text message that read, "Tim Kaine calls for radical new tax on all Americans." As no one likes to be taxed, the message clearly hurts Kaine.

But what makes the text message particularly hurtful is that it's completely false. And the kicker is that the message appears to come from Kaine himself as portions of his name were included in the originator's email address.

So how can this be legal? 

Well, the FCC has stepped in and said such text-messaging is against the law. But if the message is not a text message that goes from a phone to another phone, there may be some grey area as to whether the message is considered a "text message" and subject to the law.

In the Virginia case, the messages originated from emails as opposed to text messages. However, the recipient of the message still received it as a text message, and pays for it as a text message, reports the Times. This is a pretty clever ploy by someone who clearly studied the text of the law and found a loophole.

In this digital age where messages can be sent through so many different mediums, it's unclear why the FCC chose to draft their regulations and write their opinions in such a way as to back them into only enforcing phone-to-phone text messaging. The spirit of their regulation is to protect consumers from receiving (and paying for) unsolicited political messages. And yet campaigns just found another way to send political spam.

The lawmakers may just want to outlaw political spam regardless of the form it takes.

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