AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s campaign says an “impostor” was behind a text message purportedly seeking volunteers to give people in the country illegally rides so they could cast votes during Texas’ Senate race. Frank Freeman from Houston received one of the texts and says he immediately knew it was fake, and initially found it funny.
“I just put it on Facebook for my friends to laugh at,” says Freeman.
Still, the suggestion was enough to light up social media as screen grabs circulated on Wednesday. Soon, the text had captured the attention of the New York Times.
“A lot of people jumped to the conclusion that it was coming right from the Cruz campaign,” says Freeman (when he stopped laughing.) “I think there’s just too many eyes watching that, I don’t think they would expect to get away with something so kind of brazen.”
The messages claimed to be from O’Rourke’s campaign and went to voters saying “we are in search of volunteers to help transport undocumented immigrants to polling booths.”
O’Rourke spokesman Chris Evans told the Austin American-Statesman that the message “was sent by an impostor” and “we’re continuing to look into what happened.”
With technology and social media playing such a critical role in campaigns, local experts say voters should be wary of messages intended to make the viewer mad.
“I think online, you have to question everything, and you have to know exactly where it’s coming from,” says Mari Woodlief, owner of Allyn Media, a political consulting firm. Woodlief says it is becoming easier to doctor content online, and in so doing, manipulate the message.
“People are able to grab any image and put it with any inflammatory language they want and recreate a narrative, so you always have to know where the information is coming from, and do your own research.”
And even the social media savvy, are quick to agree.
“I do think it’s very important to learn how to fact check for yourself and find sources that you trust,” says Freeman, “and even be skeptical of them.”
O’Rourke is a three-term congressman from El Paso giving up his seat to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, but O’Rourke’s campaign has attracted heaps of national attention.