The biggest election disinformation event of the 2022 midterm primaries was not an elaborate Russian troll scheme that played out on Twitter or Facebook. It was some text messages.
The night before Kansans were set to vote on a historic statewide referendum last month, voters saw a lie about how to vote pop up on their phone. A blast of old-fashioned text messages falsely told them that a “yes” vote protected abortion access in their state, when the opposite was true — a yes vote would cut abortion protections from the state’s constitution.
The messaging effort and referendum both failed. But the campaign shows how easily a bad actor can leverage text messages — which still rely on the same basic technology from when they were developed in the 1990s — to spread disinformation with few consequences. And while there’s now a cottage industry and federal agencies that target election disinformation when it’s on social media, there’s no comparable effort for texts.