At 2:18 p.m. Eastern time on Oct. 3, nearly all mobile phones in the United States simultaneously received an alert with the message: “Presidential Alert: THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
In a less polarized environment, this test might have been viewed as routine. After all, the presidential alert system is the product of a bipartisan effort to improve emergency communications after Hurricane Katrina, established with an executive order by President George W. Bush in 2006 and modernized with bipartisan legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2016.
But before this alert, alarmist headlines declared President Trump’s intentions to send Americans an inescapable text message that cannot be shut off. Calls to protest the alert lit up Twitter with hashtags encouraging Americans to shut off their phones (#GoDark2003, #phonesoff) and cancel their wireless plans. Some even went as far as to file lawsuits to prevent the alert altogether.
But our new evidence shows that the alert itself wasn’t polarizing. Instead, it was arguably the debate about the alert.