There was little suspense when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its plan to lift the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules. The action was promised by now-President Trump during the campaign and by Ajit Pai, who he appointed FCC Chairman.
Critics of the move continue to cite the fact that the FCC received about 22 million public comments, despite the fact that we showed that a significant percentage were fake. Yesterday, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn tweeted:
Who are the faces of #netneutrality? @FCC majority needs a reminder among the 22M+ comments filed are stories from #consumers#startups #entrepreneurs & others. Time to share their stories. One each weekday through 12/14.
If Clyburn really wants know “who are the faces,” we have the answers. In the course of releasing four separate forensic analyses of the public comments in the months leading up to the decision, we found that millions don’t have faces at all. They are bots.
On May 31, we released our first report showing that of the 2.5 million “pro” comments filed up until just before that date, one-fifth were fake. The comments came from email addresses not associated with the sender, and some email addresses were used to file multiple comments.
More than 100,000 examples of identical comments used language from an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) form letter campaign in which the email addresses were generated from a fake email generator program. The submissions also included fake physical addresses and names.
On June 7 and July 17, we released a new analysis showing that 1.3 million comments came from foreign countries, including Russia. One Russian email address alone accounted for 325,528 comments!
Finally, for the home stretch of the public comment period, we released our fourth analysis on August 8. For the period of July 17 to August 4, we were astounded to identify 5.8 million fake comments, generated from one of only 10 domains, all associated with a fake email generator. We even put 1.5 million of them online, so journalists and researched could experience the counterfeits themselves.
Of course, there were many authentic and sincere expressions of support or opposition to net neutrality. It is a shame that they were diluted and eventually overwhelmed by organized efforts to game the system, debasing the entire process and rendering it more or less meaningless.
Pro-net neutrality activism is funded primarily from two sources. The first is Amazon and Silicon Valley firms like Google that have a monetary stake in the outcome of the fight. The second is left-wing billionaire George Soros’s foundation, which funds activist groups like Public Knowledge and Fight for the Future.
In the lobbying world, “Astroturf” is what is known as activities that appear to be “grass roots” in nature but which actually are funded and organized by well-heeled special interests. The “pro” net neutrality campaign may well be the most extensive Astroturf operation in history.
Clyburn’s tweet also has a whiff of corporate PR about it. Clyburn’s term has expired, so she may soon leave the Commission. Will she soon end up on a tech company payroll?