Fact Check

Can President Trump Send Unblockable Text Messages to Every American?

Articles published in late 2016 speculated that soon-to-be President Trump could abuse an FCC alert system to pelt American mobile phones with "unblockable" text messages.

Published Dec. 1, 2016

President Trump has the right and the means to send unblockable text mesage to all American cellular phones.
What's True

A Federal Communications Commission system enables the sending of unblockable emergency alerts to cellular phones.

What's False

No information suggests that President Trump has plans to frivolously mass-text the United States.

On 30 November 2016, New York Magazine published the first of several articles reporting that as of 20 January 2017, President Donald Trump would acquire the ability to send "unblockable" text messages to all American citizens:

You’ve probably, at some point, gotten a text alert on your phone about some nasty weather, an Amber Alert about a missing child, or even a (very poorly worded) alert about police looking for a criminal. These 90-character messages, known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (or WEAs), are part of a program put in place after Congress passed the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act, in 2006. WEAs allow for targeted messages to be sent to every cell phone getting a signal from certain geographically relevant cell towers (or, in a national emergency, all of them).

Here’s where things get interesting. Per the FCC, a WEA may be sent for three different reasons:

What alerts does WEA deliver?

Alerts from WEA cover only critical emergency situations. Consumers will receive only three types of alerts:

1. Alerts issued by the President ...

The article's author went on to underscore the highly speculative nature of the claim:

All WEAs must be issued through FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System, meaning that an emergency alert from the president still has at least one layer to pass through before being issued. While FEMA is under control of the executive branch (the head of FEMA is selected by the president, and reports to the Department of Homeland Security), the agency would have a vested interest in not seeing their alert system bent toward, uh, non-emergency ends.

Although the initial version of the story made it clear that the claims were highly speculative and based on a possibility (not an actual vested power handed over to Trump on Inauguration Day), CNet published an article that did not include that particular context:

President-elect Donald Trump will have access to a system that can send unblockable texts to every phone in the US once he takes the oath of office.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are a program created by a 2006 act of Congress. The so-called "WEAs" can be targeted messages sent to all mobile phones in a particular area, like Amber alerts, or to all phones nationally, like an alert issued by the president, according to a report by New York Magazine's Select/All blog.

Although media speculation held that Trump could (and implicitly would) use the WEA frivolously to annoy Americans with insults in the middle of the night, the Federal Communications Commission explicitly states the system is for use in emergencies only:

WEA is a public safety system that allows customers who own certain wireless phones and other enabled mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area. The technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. WEA (formerly known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN)) was established pursuant to the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act.

WEA enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas – lower Manhattan, for example – through cell towers that broadcast the emergency alerts for reception by WEA-enabled mobile devices ... Pre-authorized national, state or local government authorities may send alerts regarding public safety emergencies, such as evacuation orders or shelter–in-place orders due to severe weather, a terrorist threat or chemical spill, to WEA.

The portion used to tie Trump to the claim specified that the only unblockable texts are emergency alerts directly from the President:

Alerts from WEA cover only critical emergency situations. Consumers will receive only three types of alerts:

1. Alerts issued by the President
2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
3. Amber Alerts
Participating carriers may allow subscribers to block all but Presidential alerts.

The FCC announced that FEMA would be conducting a test of the system at 11:18 AM PDT (2:18 PM EDT) on Wednesday, 3 October 2018, although the test might take a few minutes to make it to all cellphones:

Although it is true that an FCC emergency alert system function enables any sitting president to send emergency texts to all Americans (and that only messages from the president cannot be blocked), any other information is pure speculation: nothing substantiates the idea that President Trump intends to misuse the system, or that the FCC would allow him to do so.


Solsman, Joan E.   "Trump Will Get Power to Text All Americans."     CNET.   30 November 2016.

Swearingen, Jake.   "Starting January 20, Donald Trump Can Send Unblockable Mass Text Messages to the Entire Nation."     New York.   30 November 2016.

FCC.   "Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)."     26 October 2016.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.