Virginia voters say some election-related texts went too far

One day after the Virginia primary, some voters are telling FOX 5 that some election-related texts they received crossed the line.

Voters received messages from unknown numbers using their first name, and in some cases the street they live on, encouraging them to vote.

Anastasia Jones got a text from a number she didn’t know around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday.            

"Anastasia, records show you voted in 2023. Find out where to vote Tuesday," the message said, with an authentic link to the Virginia Department of Elections website on how to vote.

That message was relatively tame compared to some other messages voters shared with FOX 5.

"[Name of voter] records show you voted in 2023. 28 people on [name of street] voted last year. We’ll be sharing a report after the election of who didn’t vote," the text said.

Anastasia Jones says she has never given her number to a politician, party or action committee and this doesn’t sit right with her.

"I mean, like, a little violated a little bit. Like, in my personal, like why are you texting me and how did you get my number. I know they always say be careful when you put your name and number and stuff. People absolutely have access to you," Jones said, "I don’t like them texting me. Especially without my, don’t text me. Send me a little note in the mail, a little letter, just don’t text me. That’s a little personal."

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Cayce Myers is a Virginia Tech professor who teaches public relations, media law and mass communications.  He says voters should gear up for more messages like this as we approach the November general election.

"2024 is a highly polarized, high-stakes political year, and if anything, these types of texts are going to increase," Myers said.

Myers says across the political spectrum, there’s value in data.

So how does a random number get someone’s name, cell phone number and, potentially, their street address?

The most likely answer, Myers says, is a registered voter who must show their address, which is public record, may give their number to a campaign or political action committee.

If they don’t do that, which is a lot of people, someone who gives another entity their cell phone number might also be giving that entity to sell their data to a third party.

Then, political actors and/or big-data companies get involved to match up things like someone’s address with their name and their cell phone, leading to these texts.

"It is not clear to the user unless they have a really sophisticated understanding of those disclosure risks and they really do a deep dive and most people that are providing data, they’re just providing data to get the information that they want or to do a transaction online, they’re not really thinking about well, six months down the road I’m going to get a text message," Myers said.

As for that phone number that sent the message, FOX 5 could not get a phone call to go through, no one responded to a text and it’s unclear who sent it.

FOX 5 reached out to the Virginia Attorney General to see if they’d gotten any complaints, and haven’t heard back on this holiday. We’ll update this web story if we get a response.