Why Blocking Racist Robocalls Is So Difficult To Do

Scott D. Rhodes during a podcast
Screenshot: Road To Freedom Podcast Website

Blocking people on social media isn’t that hard, nor is it difficult for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to permanently ban people from their platforms if they determine the user is spreading false information or racist ideologies.

Though, as The Spokesman-Review points out, getting rid of racist robocalls is a much more complicated enterprise. Some 10,000 robocalls in recent months have been linked to Scott D. Rhodes, a 49-year-old Nazi. The calls end with “paid for by theroadtopower.com” – a video podcasting site where Rhodes spews his racism.

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His most recent robocall that made national news was directed at Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

Here’s more background on why it’s so hard to combat racist robocalls:

Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991, hoping to put an end to spam phone calls, but advancements in technology have left regulators scrambling for ways to enforce the law.

Voice over internet protocol, or VoIP, enabled users of services like Skype and Google Voice to place calls halfway around the world at little or no cost, but it also paved the way for spammers to send thousands of calls per hour using only a web-connected computer and some open-source software. A number of companies also host robocalls – often for legal, legitimate purposes – for as little as a penny per call.

Another problem is the ease with which spammers can “spoof” phone numbers – that is, change the numbers associated with incoming robocalls so they appear to come from trusted contacts, even neighbors with the same area codes and prefixes.

There are many legitimate uses for spoofing, however. A doctor’s office, for example, may want to call patients to remind them of upcoming appointments, while always showing recipients the same phone number and not a specific extension. That means the technology isn’t likely to go away.

Despite the creation of a National Do Not Call Registry, the number of illegal robocalls and telemarketing calls has skyrocketed in recent years.

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“It costs him very little to send out messages of hate, and so that’s the preferred choice,” Christie Wood, president of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations — which played a critical role in dissolving the Aryan Nations in the 1990s — told The Statesman-Review.

“When you look at the cost of printing the pamphlets that they’ve done in the past, I guess this is the most cost-effective mode,” Woods said. “But it’s intrusive. It’s alarming. The people who get the calls are disgusted by it. So I really don’t see how he thinks he’s making any inroads. It’s a mystery to me that he thinks it’s effective.”

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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