Earlier this month we celebrated the anniversary of the text message. At 28 years old, texting now begrudgingly has to identify itself as in its late 20s and spends holidays swatting away invasive questions such as, ‘When are you going to settle down and have kids?”
Alas, now well into its third decade on Earth, SMS continues to evolve and has had quite the impact on pop culture and society at large. People write songs about it! Entire television shows have been made on the premise of sending text messages to an anonymous phone number (Gossip Girl), elections have potentially been decided on voter registration efforts via SMS, and multi-billion dollar corporations have been hacked because they didn’t turn on 2FA.
As we look back at the past year, SMS has had quite a few memorable moments, and while new technologies continue to come for the throne, the effectiveness of a good old SMS remains undefeated.
Moment 1: Would you like to register to vote?
Many considered the 2020 US election to be the most important in American modern history. In the face of a global pandemic, an uncertain economy and growing distrust in government institutions, it stood to reason that most eligible voters would like to have their say on who would lead the nation for the next four years.
The turnout was, as predicted, massive. 161 million Americans voted in the November general election, more than 2/3 of eligible voters. The incumbent even set the record for most votes ever by a Republican and still lost. Aside from the obvious reasons listed above, digital transformation played a large part in educating voters on how to cast their ballot.
In a study commissioned by Mitto, survey respondents indicated that SMS was a quite helpful channel in keeping them abreast of election news. 37% of respondents indicated SMS messages associated with the election influenced them to register to vote. 26% were more likely to donate to a specific cause or campaign and 31% of respondents mentioned SMS influenced their decision on who to vote for. In an election that quite literally came down to the wire, SMS may have tipped the election.
Furthermore, a majority of respondents (67%) felt campaign texts helped keep them informed about voting and that the messages they received successfully pointed them to important resources. If I were a politician considering a run in 2022 or 2024—or any org trying to get the word out–I would find this information highly valuable.
Moment 2: 45 gets hacked
In the early web 1.0 days, you could not make a Hollywood film about “the internet” without at least one scene of a befuddled protagonist trying to guess a password to diffuse a bomb or somehow prevent the extinction of mankind. Think Swordfish, Hackers or even Jurassic Park when Samuel L Jackson tried to reboot the security system shortly before Wayne Knight had his face eaten off by a Dilophosaurus. Ah Ah Ah, you didn’t say the magic word!
Surely that would be a thing of the past in 2020? Well maybe not, but certainly the leader of the free world would have extra security measures protecting his Twitter account.
*FAMILY FEUD BUZZER* ERRRRRNT, wrong…at least that’s what Dutch security researcher Victor Gevers found out when he correctly guessed Donald Trump’s Twitter password in October. At the time President Trump had over 100 million followers and Twitter was one of the primary ways he communicated with his followers. Gevers immediately notified the Secret Service, but imagine if he would have instead made calls for violence or something even more sinister. Gevers didn’t even have to try too hard, in fact guessing the password right on his fifth try. Any guesses? The password was maga2020!
Two-factor authentication has been praised for years as an extremely effective way to stop these types of brute force attacks. Google data has shown that 2fa can be up to 100% effective on automated bot attacks and about 99% effective on bulk phishing attacks. Security experts and pop culture icons alike have been begging everyone to turn on 2fa. Trevor Noah recently ran a spot on Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show’ imploring people to use the extremely simple tool to protect themselves. In fact, several companies over the last decade have lost millions of dollars to breaches that would have been prevented by 2fa. Who knew that SMS could be so valuable?
Moment 3. SMS flattens the curve
In the midst of the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine, it would be easy to pretend that 2020 was a horrible nightmare that never quite happened, but the reality is we will be feeling the effects of 2020’s global pandemic for years to come. Information was sometimes unclear or difficult to come by, with many major social media companies unsure how to deal with conflicting information or outright lies. While cable news seemed to cover the pandemic down to the minute, not everyone watches 12 hours of CNN every day.
Some governments, such as South Korea, decided to go directly to its citizens in the form of an SMS delivered right to their fingertips via an SMS. Critical government-approved messages were sent to people to save lives. With a 98% open rate, an SMS would seem a far more effective communication tool than a government PSA or a billboard directing someone to a website. South Korea was hailed as one of the countries that handled COVID the best, and SMS played a small part.
Other governments used SMS to communicate curfews in the event of new COVID restrictions or civil unrest. It’s time to start thinking of SMS as not only a security or marketing tool, but one that can act in the public interest or texting for good as we say.
These weren’t the only important things that happened with SMS this year. My goodness, we crowned a new America’s Got Talent winner thanks in part to SMS voting! I texted Santa Claus my Christmas list. But more importantly, thousands of businesses used SMS to engage directly with their customers, to send alerts and reminders and secure user accounts. At 28, many aging millennial figures are past their prime. But for SMS, it’s just getting started.