A mysterious, nation-wide robocalling operation has reached millions of Americans over the last several weeks, advising them to “stay home and stay safe,” according to the Washington Post, leading some observers and telecommunications experts to believe the hi-tech, untraceable calls are meant to keep voters away from the polls on Election Day.
The robocalls began this summer, and their intensity grew through October, eventually reaching 280 of the country’s 317 area codes and roughly 10 million people, according to the Post.
The calls all feature a short message, announcing itself as a “test call,” before trying to persuade people to stay inside, the report said.
YouMail, an app that blocks robocalls on smartphones, along with multiple telecommunications companies, investigated the robocalls and believe the source to be highly sophisticated and foreign in origin.
While the call doesn’t specifically mention the general election or the coronavirus pandemic, it can sow confusion, which may be the point, YouMail’s CEO Alex Quilici told the Post, adding: “If you wanted to cause havoc in America for the elections, one way to do it is clearly robocalling.”
Misinformation has been a powerful tool used to sway, or confuse voters, and robocalls are just one way bad actors can muddy the waters. Social media, texting, and messaging apps have all been used to spread misinformation with the explicit purpose influencing voters. In August, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report confirming Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the Democratic Party’s computer servers in order to bolster then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign. More recently, Latino voters in South Florida, one of the most hotly contested battleground states, have been awash in right-wing misinformation on social media, which is then shared through messaging apps. The most common unsubstantiated rumors and fake reports include rigged voting machines, people using mail-in ballots to vote multiple times, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents patrolling polling places.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, on Tuesday alerted voters in Dearborn about a suspicious text message making the rounds that claimed a “typographical error” on the on the ballots, which were inexplicably described as “Scranton ballots,” meant if you wanted to vote for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, you had to check the box for Trump, according to the Post.
Of the top 25 states most vulnerable to misinformation, 12 are either battleground states or are holding a crucial Senate race, according to The Fletcher School at Tufts University’s Misinformation Vulnerability Index.
Suspicious robocall campaign warning people to ‘stay home’ spooks voters nationwide (Washington Post)
This Is How Social Media Platforms Plan To Tackle Election Day And Its Fallout (Forbes)
Latino Voters Drown In A Sea Of Misinformation In South Florida (Forbes)
6 Election Falsehoods to Watch For Today (New York Times)