More Media Outlets Push Out Misleading TCPA Articles Following John Oliver Video

It was inevitable after John Oliver’s witty but highly misleading hit piece on the TCPA. Even after the Czar’s thorough rebuke of the John Oliver bit, mainstream media outlets have followed with their own lightly researched and unintentionally misleading articles. Many simply repeat Oliver’s misleading claims, like these examples from Rolling Stone and TimeOthers parrot data from the “robocall index” produced by call-blocking app maker YouMail that doesn’t actually track robocalls. The fake news is causing real harm, because false-TCPA narratives from interest groups get in the way of meaningful reform. And in the meantime, the inundation from true robocallers – mainly offshore spammers – continues.

These #fakenews stories often follow the same pattern. They start with a description of true robocalls from offshore scam artists. Everyone is familiar with these calls. They are from “the warranty department,” or offer to “refinance your house” or a “free cruise.” All you need to do to extend your warranty, refinance your home, or win a free cruise is provide your bank account and social security number. The news accounts – including John Oliver’s – justifiably call out these practices and call for reform. But the stories then pivot and cast legitimate American companies making legitimate phone calls under the same umbrella. And that’s a problem.

This is the slight-of-hand to lookout for. The piece will go from discussing scam artists to discussing calls to collect a legitimate account or to provide important account or service-related information. And the story will falsely attach the same “autodialer” or “robocaller” label to these calls that it correctly attached to auto-spam. They get away with this subtle slight-of-hand by not actually defining these terms. That allows them to ignore the fact that the technology to place auto-spam and spoofed calls is very different from the technology used to place legitimate calls for legitimate purposes. The article will then bolster these misleading statements with quotations to special interest groups like the National Consumer Law Center, discredited “experts,” attorneys who make millions from filing harassing TCPA lawsuits, and the owners of the YouMail call-blocking app. These groups have an obvious interest in painting legitimate companies as robocallers – it’s much easier to sue an actual US company than a sketchy, offshore auto-spammer.

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