How email campaigns targeting Utah House Republicans could sway votes on Salt Lake County’s mask mandate

Online groups with extreme views on COVID-19 are urging group members to contact Utah lawmakers.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign encourages face masks at City Creek shopping center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

Anytime Utah lawmakers tackle a controversial topic, they see their email boxes flooded with messages urging them to vote one way or another. Last Spring Utah Parents United organized a highly successful campaign urging legislators to tackle the issue of critical race theory in public schools.

It’s no different in the early days of the 2022 legislative general session, as House Republicans mull whether to overturn the mask requirements enacted earlier this month. SJR3 flew through the Utah Senate on Tuesday, while House Republicans are still struggling to find consensus on the resolution to usurp local masking requirements.

Some lawmakers say the emails they’re receiving are running about three to one in favor of terminating the county’s mask order. That’s not surprising with masks being so politicized in a Republican state like Utah.

What is surprising is where some of those organizing efforts are originating.

Salt Lake County GOP Chair Chris Null has used the party’s social media channels for a “call to action” on the resolution. The party also sent out an email on the subject, a message that just happened to be attached to a fundraising appeal.

Outside of the traditional communication methods on social media, there is an intense effort in several right-wing Telegram groups.

One well-trafficked group on the messaging app belongs to the Utah Freedom Coalition. They post updates and host discussions throughout the day during the session on nearly every piece of legislation, urging members to vote up or down. There were several posts urging members to urge legislators to end masking requirements.

Telegram is their main organizing hub, as they’ve been kicked off Twitter and Facebook permanently. That’s not difficult to believe as the channel is littered with misinformation about vaccines, COVID-19 denial and posts about how the 2020 election was fraudulent. There was a lengthy post on Wednesday claiming the Utah League of Cities and Towns had a nefarious connection to the United Nations which could lead to Americans being put into camps.

Longtime anti-vaccine advocate Kristen Chevrier, the director of Vaccine Freedom Utah, is also calling for Telegram users to contact legislators on Telegram. Chevrier was a presenter to the Health and Human Services Interim Committee in September, urging lawmakers to block vaccine mandates.

Those calls to action are accompanied by links to find lawmakers, easy copy and paste lists of email addresses and templates for composing messages. Individual posts get a few hundred views each, but they’re crossposted across several groups to maximize their reach.

While those Telegram groups may be small, the biggest has about 1,000 users, if just 100 users send an email to all 58 Republicans in the House, that’s 5,800 messages in short order. If you multiply that across 5 groups, lawmakers are quickly buried under thousands of emails, which has the potential to sway public opinion.