Can You Hear Me Now? Not If You’re Pro-Choice

Businesses have the right to choose who they do business with to a certain extent, but this is a little creepy. From The New York Times:

Saying it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.
The other leading wireless carriers have accepted the program, which allows people to sign up for text messages from Naral by sending a message to a five-digit number known as a short code.
Text messaging is a growing political tool in the United States and a dominant one abroad, and such sign-up programs are used by many political candidates and advocacy groups to send updates to supporters.
But legal experts said private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.
Naral provided an example of a recent text message that it has sent to supporters: “End Bush’s global gag rule against birth control for world’s poorest women! Call Congress. (202) 224-3121. Thnx! Naral Text4Choice.”

It sounds like this is an opt-in program–as in you wouldn’t get a message like that unless you signed up to receive it. But as our society becomes more and more dependent on a small group of telecom companies for our daily communications, this may be going too far. Should text messages be regulated where phone calls aren’t?
In a sense, though, doesn’t this define Verizon as a brand that doesn’t believe in free speech for its customers? After all, the company isn’t endorsing the message simply by allowing it to be transmitted on its system. This could open the door for competitor brands to position themselves as friendlier to other advocacy organizations of all types–and that would be interesting. I’d love to see more companies have to defend their business practices–and not hide some bogus “brand belief system” created in an ad agency PowerPoint deck.
[UPDATE 10:41 AM] It didn’t take long for Verizon to reverse its decision:

“It was an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy,” Mr. Nelson said. “That policy, developed before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages, was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.”
Mr. Nelson noted that text messaging is “harnessed by organizations and individuals communicating their diverse opinions about issues and topics” and said Verizon has “great respect for this free flow of ideas.”



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.