Picture this: you’re minding your own business when suddenly your cell phone howls an alarm, calling your attention to a special text message from President Trump. It’s the third one that day, and there’s no way to stop more Trump alerts from pouring in.
The scenario is unlikely, but it’s worth noting that Presidents have that power thanks to “Wireless Emergency Alerts,” which many people have received in the case of a missing child or a severe weather warning.
As New York magazine notes in a light-hearted piece, the FCC explains the alerts can only be sent in three situations: 1) Immediate threats to life or safety; 2) Amber alerts (missing or abducted children); 3) Alerts from the President.
In recent years, the alerts have become more common, including when New York residents received an emergency text message in September about a terrorist loose in the city. The FCC, meanwhile, is in the course of updating the alerts so that they can be longer (up to 360 from 90 characters) and include pictures and Spanish language messages.
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But so far, no President has used them. While Barack Obama is a regular Twitter
user (his personal tweets are signed “-bo”), he has never ordered text sent via the Wireless Emergency Alert system.
Could this change under Trump? Consider how short text blasts are the President-elect’s favorite form of communication and, based on his innumerable Twitter outbursts, he has demonstrated few reservations about sending them. For Trump, the power to send every American a text, knowing they can’t opt-out, may prove irresistible. One can only imagine the content of such messages.
Fortunately, such a situation remains far-fetched since there is no evidence Trump would use the alert tool for anything other than a bona fide national emergency. Anyone worried about receiving Trump texts can take comfort that sending the alerts requires a level of technology training that the President-elect has yet to possess.
But if Trump does take up emergency alerts as a form of communications, it’s going to be a long and loud four years.