By Kim Lyons
Gov. Josh Shapiro wants everyone in Pennsylvania to text him directly.
Starting today, the governor’s office will be available on Community, an SMS messaging system that delivers text messages directly to subscribers. Using the number 717-788-8990 on Community, constituents can send and receive text messages from Shapiro’s office.
“To best serve the people of Pennsylvania, we have to meet people where they are – and do it effectively and efficiently. No matter how you choose to access government, you need to know you’re going to get help, whether you’re walking into a building or sending me a text,” Shapiro said in a press release announcing the new service. “More importantly, I want to hear what you think, what my administration and I can help with, and your stories.”
Shapiro said in the release that his office will deliver messages to those who subscribe with information about his initiatives, provide first-hand updates on actions his administration is taking and “connect with Commonwealth resources.”
Shapiro’s not the first politician to join Community; the platform was founded in 2019, and lists former President Barack Obama and President Joe Biden among its users, along with brands, businesses, influencers, public figures and celebrities. Actor Ashton Kutcher is among the company’s co-founders.
The Pittsburgh Penguins told the Wall Street Journal in 2021 that the organization joined Community in 2020 and used it to promote offers, and for updates like changes to game times (While the Penguins are still listed as active on Community, searches for “Philadelphia Flyers” and “Gritty” did not produce any results).
Biden joined Community last year, and White House aides told Politico the office was “experimenting” with the platform, and that it allowed the president “to have a direct dialogue with people.”
The release from Shapiro’s office says that text messages sent from his office on Community “will be delivered directly to subscribers, without relying on an algorithm and without selling user data.” The lack of an algorithm is a potential selling point for a person or brand that wants to reach a large audience outside of social media’s opaque algorithms, which can interfere with who sees a message and when.
But it’s worth noting that even though it may not sell user data, Community’s Terms of Service state it can “use your information to send you emails, text messages, and other messages” for its marketing and informational purposes.
According to an August news release from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s office (he claimed to be the first U.S. governor using the platform), Community doesn’t share advertising. And under its Acceptable Use Policy, Community forbids users from using its platform to manipulate or interfere with elections “or other civic processes,” and Leaders on Community – the celebrity or notable person who has given you their number – can’t use information gathered from their subscribers to discriminate against them.
Community has an iPhone app, and a web app, but it doesn’t appear that there’s a native Android app. To access it from an Android device, users will have to log in to Community’s web app on their phone’s internet browser. The web app can also be accessed from a laptop or desktop browser.
Shapiro’s release said his administration is “committed to creating online opportunities for Pennsylvanians to connect with the Commonwealth,” and noted that the administration launched the Commonwealth Office of Digital Experience (CODE PA) in April.
In the executive order that established CODE PA, Shapiro wrote that the goal was to “improve, streamline, and continuously adapt the Commonwealth’s digital services so that interactions between users and Commonwealth entities are simple, seamless, and secure.”
Kim Lyons is editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.