Right-wing media promote debunked story that Biden administration is monitoring personal text messages for anti-vaccine misinformation

Fox News hosts and Spotify’s Joe Rogan helped spread the false story, which was based on a misread of a July 12 Politico article

Right-wing media are spreading the debunked myth that the Democratic National Campaign and the Biden administration are planning to monitor private citizens’ text messages for anti-vaccine misinformation. 

The false story came from a misconstrued July 12 Politico article that stated, “Biden allied groups, including the Democratic National Committee, are also planning to engage fact-checkers more aggressively and work with SMS carriers to dispel misinformation about vaccines that is sent over social media and text messages.” As PolitiFact reported, “There is no evidence that the Biden administration aims to intercept private texts”:

The DNC told PolitiFact it is contacting carriers about texts sent en masse that "spread scams and disinformation."

DNC spokesman Lucas Acosta said the DNC "has no ability to access or read people’s private text messages, and we are not working with any government agency, including the White House, to try to see personal text messages.

"However, when the DNC's counter-disinformation program receives complaints or reports of fraudulent broadcast SMSs that we believe violate the text aggregators’ terms of service, we notify the broadcast text platform," Acosta added. 

... 

There is no evidence that the Biden administration aims to intercept private texts. A trade group said wireless carriers do not read or moderate content in texts and are not working with third parties to do so.

The statement is False.

Despite numerous reports noting that the text message story is false, prominent media figures -- including prime-time Fox News hosts and Spotify’s Joe Rogan -- promoted the story to their audiences:

  • On July 12, Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson promoted the false story, stating, “Today we learned the Biden administration considers censorship applicable to private speech as well. What you say in private, when you're alone with your phone, you won't be able to say or read what you want because the DNC plans to control, and apparently they have the ability to control, the flow of information that you receive on your phone.” (Later in the episode, Carlson was joined by Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) to double down on the false claim.)
Video file

Citation From the July 12, 2021, edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight

  • On July 13, One America News correspondent Jezzamine Wolk asserted, “The Democrat National Committee and the White House are now urging SMS carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, you name it, to scan your text messages for any quote ‘misinformation on the on COVID-19 vaccine.’ How insane.”
Video file

Citation During the July 13, 2021, edition of One America News' Real America with Dan Ball

  • During the July 13 edition of his livestreamed show, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk claimed, “The Biden administration is saying in this collusion article that they wrote with Politico, which was totally leaked and was worked collaboratively, that they want to monitor your text messages about the vaccine. They are going to monitor what you say to your family members and friends.”
  • On July 14, Fox News host Pete Hegseth fearmongered that “the Biden administration wants to team up with cell phone companies to read your personal text messages. But don’t worry: Their intentions are innocent. They simply want to monitor vaccine misinformation shared between family and friends. You know, your mom — if your mom texts you anything negative about the shot, or dare question Biden’s new door-to-door policy, you can expect to be inundated, on your private texts, by so-called fact-checkers.”
Video file

Citation From the July 14, 2021, edition of Fox News' Fox News Primetime

  • Hegseth repeated the false story two days later, stating, “The Biden administration is eyeing a partnership with cell phone carriers to intercept and fact-check your text messages -- your private text messages containing COVID misinformation” 
Video file

Citation From the July 16, 2021, edition of Fox News' Fox News Primetime

  • On July 20, Spotify’s most popular podcast host, Joe Rogan, discussed the false story, saying, “Have you seen the new thing about SMS text messages to stop COVID vaccine misinformation? ... Saager sent me this and we were talking -- Saager from Breaking Points sent me this. We were talking about this recently. They are monitoring SMS texts for dangerous misinformation about COVID vaccines.”
Video file

Citation From the July 20, 2021, edition of Spotify's The Joe Rogan Experience

  • Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones posted a video titled “Breaking: DNC Announces Plan to Surveil & Censor All Americans’ Private Text Messages, Reports Politico.”
  • During the July 12 edition of Infowars’ War Room, host Owen Shroyer asserted, “Democrats have announced they are going to start censoring private messages. If you say anything about vaccines or you say anything about elections, they are going to censor your private message.”
  • Breitbart Editor-at-Large John Nolte asserted in an article, “The last on Biden’s list (until he comes up with more fascist ideas) is fact-checking text messages.” (Breitbart also, however, reprinted the AP fact-check of the claim.)
  • Numerous other right-wing media outlets published articles on the story, including The Daily Caller, One America News Network, LifesiteNews, Red State, and The Gateway Pundit.