Let’s Calm Down, Everyone. The President Is Not Texting You On Wednesday.
Before I get into this, I want to be absolutely clear -- I am NOT taking sides in any political debate. I am simply correcting a ridiculous fallacy that has some people whipped up on social media, which is being perpetuated by a handful of media outlets online.
As I shared earlier today, there will be a test of a new federal alert system that utilizes cell phones to alert the public of national emergencies, AMBER Alerts, and dangerous weather events. This is a 21st Century version of the decades-old Emergency Alert System (EAS) that relies on broadcast television and radio stations to relay these same messages. This new system simply moves that message conduit to people's cell phones.
The combined facts that most Americans have cell phones on them at all times and that many (particularly younger) Americans are getting away from using broadcast media as a primary method of media consumption brought up the discussion to bring alert messages to people's phones. This system has been getting rolled out since 2012, and is just now getting its first nation-wide test on October 3.
All of that seems pretty harmless, right? It lets people know about emergencies via the devices they have with them all the time. Even better, most of the alert types (weather, AMBER Alerts, etc.) can be turned off if you'd prefer. The only type of alerts that can't be turned off are those from the federal government, specifically the Office of the President, which is also responsible for any EAS (via radio/TV) alerts that would ever need to be sent out in the event of a national emergency. All of those alerts have specific rules about how and when they can be sent out, and they aren't taken lightly by those who can issue them.
Enter some media outlets seemingly looking to prey on the current political climate to whip up a debate, and a simple test of a system designed to just alert people of particularly important things has been turned into a heated social media political debate.
Luckily no Duluth-area media outlets have sunk to this level, but WCCO in the Twin Cities, CNET, and another media outlets around the country have turned a national test of this alert system into a debate in social media comments sections over whether or not the President has the right to "text" everyone's phone, using headlines like "President Trump to Text Everyone Tomorrow". Even though WCCO tried to downplay the sensationalized headline with some context in the post caption (as seen below), the debate rages on in the comments about something that really shouldn't be such a hot-button issue.
Technically, this "Presidential Alert" (it actually is called that) is being authorized by President Trump, but he isn't actually personally sending everyone a text message. The executive office is authorizing those who manage this new Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to send out this test message. These messages are not "text messages", either. They are more like the push notifications your favorite weather, news, or sports app would deliver to your phone. No one individual can be targeted by this system, and moreover, they aren't subject to the whims of someone who just feels like sending out a message to the public. That's what Twitter is for. There are specific criteria that need to be met in order for a message to be issued by the Office of the President. As Snopes points out, these messages are authorized by the Oval Office, but ultimately are filtered through FEMA/Department of Homeland Security. Yes, those people are given jobs by the President, but they do have a vested interest in serving as a filter, if they ever needed to do so.
So no, President Trump isn't personally sending everyone a text message tomorrow, nor can he send any message without FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security getting involved.
It's safe to say everyone, regardless of your political beliefs, is tired of the ridiculous and uncivil political discourse online. So, why fire up a debate around a political lightning rod when it isn't necessary? Shame on the media outlets that felt the need to sensationalize what should have been a simple public service announcement about why your phones will be going off at 1:18 pm Wednesday.