Net neutrality

Fake comments could heavily skew the debate around the open internet

Someone out there really hates net neutrality.

Net neutrality

False claims

The FCC is currently accepting public comment on the reversal of Obama-era net neutrality rules
Over 436,000 comments are suspected to be fake
These comments skew the data heavily in favor of reversal
Net neutrality

Fake comments could heavily skew the debate around the open internet

Someone out there really hates net neutrality.

As part of the Federal Communication Commission's official “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” to redefine net neutrality protections — effectively stripping the FCC of any real regulatory oversight — the FCC has opened up a public docket where folks can comment. That docket has since been flooded with hundreds of thousands of comments that appear to be fake.

Net neutrality itself is, in a nutshell, the concept that no data should be favored other any other. If you’ve ever heard about the dangers of a two-tiered internet, or intentional throttling, you’ve heard about some aspect of net neutrality. FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, a man many consider to be a foe to net neutrality, has long downplayed these concerns, arguing that the free market served the internet just fine in the past, and the current Title II protections enacted under the Obama administration is just another example of government unduly meddling. Pai would have the FCC reverse that decision and those protections.

Which is why it’s both interesting and important that a large number of those expressing anti-net neutrality sentiments in the public docket along the same lines as Pai and those that agree with him are under suspicion of being bots.

An analysis by developer Chris Sinchok early last week uncovered what appeared to be over 700,000 anti-net neutrality comments submitted via API rather than on the site itself. Several groups of those anti-net neutrality comments are similar in wording, with around 277,000 comments coming from what appears to be form submissions from campaigns by Free Our Internet and Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

That leaves over 436,000 anti-net neutrality comments submitted via API without a definitive source.

There’s evidence that the fraudulent comments could be using data from various information breaches in the past. Some of the names trace back to dead people, and others have claimed that they were not the ones to submit an anti-net neutrality comment despite their name and information being used.

Some of the names on the fake comments trace back to dead people

Fight for the Future, a nonprofit organization that advocates around issues such as net neutrality, has constructed a tool that allows users to search the comments to see if their identify is being used. (Mine, for example, has not been.)

As Fight for the Future notes, internet service providers (ISPs) don’t just play defense in these fights. It’s not uncommon for these companies to “astroturf” these sort of conversations by directly or indirectly funding organizations that claim to represent the public. While we don’t know the source of the largest group of comments, which are all expected to be fake, Fight for the Future implies that if companies like Comcast or Verizon have nothing to do with this effort, then there’s no reason to not condemn it and request they be ignored.

“While it may be convenient for you to ignore this, given that it was done in an attempt to support your position,” a letter to the FCC from some of those impersonated reads, “it cannot be the case that the FCC moves forward on such a major public debate without properly investigating this known attack.”


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