Free Speech: Social Media Users Who Insult Trump Get a Warning in Creepy Phone Call

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A woman checks her cellphone as she waits in line to enter the U.S. Supreme Court to view a hearing on November 29. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Some Americans received automated calls in recent weeks that claimed to be from a group supporting President Donald Trump, warning them to stop making negative online posts about the president. Turns out, the calls actually originated from a prank phone call service.

The calls spooked some people, who reported that the "Trump for Office Foundation" had phoned them to tell them to "lay off" the derogatory posts. The messages stated:

"Hi, this is Russell calling from the Trump for Office Foundation. How are you doing today? Great. Well, we're calling in regard to a problem we had with recent activity on your social media accounts. Do you have a second to talk about this matter? We've been monitoring some of your posts and it does seem that you've been making some rather negative comments about President Trump. Is that correct? Listen. We're going to have to ask you to lay off on the negative and derogatory posts about President Trump, OK? What's your problem, anyways? Don't you want to make America great again? Well, you've been warned. We'll be keeping an eye on you. Have a nice day."

Brett Vanderbrook, an Uber driver who supports LGBT rights, told Gizmodo he was shocked when he got the call. "It was kind of threatening. I was dumbfounded at first and then creeped out," said Vanderbrook, who lives in Dallas. "Then I was angry, and that's when I decided to share it."

The messages spurred some on social media to report political harassment, but the private company Ownage Pranks confirmed to Snopesthat somebody had used their service to send out the calls as a prank. The company allows users to request and send prank calls, but its terms of service prohibit using the app to call anyone with whom the user hasn't had a personal interaction with.

"Although the scripts are often cartoonish and often outlandish," the company's rules say, "some of the scripts may be scary or misleading to people who may not be expecting these calls or who cannot get a personal, friendly explanation about the nature of the call."

@BobSMueller Let it be known that I just received a robocall from The citizens who support Donald Trump. The number was listed as an unknown number are (805-219-6720). They warned me that they do not like the negative posts I have put on Facebook and Twitter regarding Trump.

— Mueller time (@mikeschmitt11) November 27, 2017

A spokesperson for Ownage Pranks said that anyone who received a call also received a follow-up message that said, "You've been pranked by ownagepranks.com" and gave them the option to block the company's number.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on November 16 to allow phone carriers to block robocalls that appear to be fraudulent, especially those that manipulate caller ID to make a phone number look more recognizable and thus more enticing to pick up. Experts say this new decision will likely block only around 10 percent of robocalls but could prevent some of the worst calls that aim to scam people.

It appears that the pro-Trump prank call was meant to be relatively harmless, but Ownage Pranks is changing its policy nonetheless, given how many people were alarmed when they felt their social media accounts were being monitored.

"We've changed the nature of the call since," the spokesperson said, "because these things are supposed to be goofy, not serious."