Why Are People Suddenly Getting Mysterious Text Messages?

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Early Thursday morning, people all over the U.S. and Canada began receiving strange text messages that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The texts were from people they knew but they lacked context and appeared to have been sent months ago. And it really freaked some folks out! Mercifully, there is an explanation for this unusual event.

Twitter and Reddit users began sharing stories of the weird texts they woke up to, and everyone had the same basic experience: They got a random text from a friend or family member in the wee hours, and it appeared to have been sent on Valentine’s Day or sometime in February. But the content of the weird messages was different for everyone. One Twitter user said that they have a close friend who’s been going through a rough patch in life. The friend goes to bed at 9 p.m. every night and doesn’t drink, they said. But last night they sent an unnerving message at 1 a.m. that simply said, “Come get me!” The user who posted the anecdote explained that she proceeded to call emergency services. Police arrived at the troubled friend’s house, and after much confusion, the friend finally answered the door to explain they were fine and had no record of sending the text.

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There are a lot of stories like this out there today, and many times the situation is reversed, with users explaining that a friend received a text from them that they’d never sent. This has caused a surprising amount of disruption for people. L. Hollingworth School in Toledo, Ohio, apologized to parents who received a text message saying that school was canceled. Another individual on Twitter said that a text from February just went through to her former significant other. “I want to die,” she tweeted.

While we don’t have all the details of what got screwed up, Gizmodo reached out to the major cellular carriers in the U.S., and we were told that it first and foremost this is not their fault and that you are not crazy if you happen to be one of the weird-text-receivers.

“This was not a T-Mobile issue, it was an issue with a third-party vendor [that] also affected other networks,” a spokesperson for T-Mobile told us. They told us it has been resolved and didn’t respond to follow up questions about the vendor.

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Sprint was more helpful. A spokesperson explained that yesterday evening, “a maintenance update occurred to part of the messaging platforms of multiple carriers in the U.S., including Sprint, which caused some customers to have older text messages sent to their devices.” When we asked for clarification, the spokesperson confirmed that these were messages that were successfully sent in the past, not messages that had never gone through. A telecommunications black hole didn’t just open up in February, swallow the texts, and spit them out for the first time today. People likely just forgot about the messages over the last nine months.

A Verizon spokesperson did not offer comment on the situation but directed us to contact Syniverse, a telecommunications services company that provides a variety of products for the industry. Multiple phone calls and an email have thus far gone unanswered, but if you just want to put your own mind at ease, it appears that you or your friend did indeed send that text message—it was just a long time ago.

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For those out there who’d really like to know what piece of infrastructure caused this mess, we’re with you, and we’ll update this post when we get more answers.

It’s more than a little unsettling to see how a single errant text can turn people’s lives, school schedules, or emergency services upside down.

Update: Syniverse did not respond directly to our questions but did send a statement with some answers and promised to keep us in the loop on further information. Here’s the statement:

During an internal maintenance cycle last night, 168,149 previously undelivered text messages were inadvertently sent to multiple mobile operators’ subscribers.

We apologize to anyone who was impacted by this occurrence,” said William Hurley, Chief Marketing and Product Officer, Syniverse. “While the issue has been resolved, we are in the process of reviewing our internal procedures to ensure this does not happen again, and actively working with our customers’ teams to answer any questions they have.

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