Cable Astroturfing Effort Comes Off Like When Your Dad Tries To Sound Like A Teenager

from the oh-that's-painful dept

In the past, we’ve covered attempts by big broadband to astroturf their way into the debate on net neutrality, and it just comes off as so obviously fake that it appears rather pitiful. The latest attempt may be even worse. While consumer advocacy groups have been able to do a great job getting people to speak up and raise their concerns about keeping the internet open, often appealing to younger folks who have always grown up with the internet, it appears that the big broadband lobbyists are now trying to fake their way into getting the same folks on their side — and it comes off about as well as when your dad tries to act like a teenager, using new slang and trying to dress accordingly, but just making a total fool of himself. ProPublica has the details of a new effort by NCTA, the big broadband lobbying trade group run by former FCC chair Michael Powell (who is a big part of the reason we’re in this mess today), called “Onward Internet.” (ProPublica calls it a telco lobbying group, but NCTA is much more about cable interests).

Onward Internet has been setting up public “suggestion boxes” for the internet, complete with people idiotically dressed in “futuristic” costumes (because, you know how much millenials love Jetsons-like futuristic costumes):

But, of course, nowhere do they actually admit who’s behind the campaign. Instead, they just use a bunch of internet “lingo” that they think makes themselves sound young and cool.

The boxes, sometimes accompanied by young people in futuristic costumes, have been popping up on both coasts for weeks, soliciting messages of support – but their sponsor has been a mystery. The web site for the campaign, Onward Internet, does not say. Their domain registration is private. And the site includes no contact information, only an animated video heavy on millennial lingo: “The internet was made to move data…we got blogs, likes, selfies and memes, OMG, BRB and TTYL.”

No one from Onward Internet or the “production agency” (which already suggests astroturfing) behind it would admit to who was involved, but ProPublica tracked it down anyway, by asking the company that rented the space for one of those nutty installations, who came right out and admitted that it was NCTA. Amusingly, when confronted about it, NCTA tried to sidestep the question:

NCTA officials did not respond to questions about Onward Internet and would not confirm they’re behind it. “What led you to the conclusion that this is an NCTA effort…?” asked Brian Dietz, a vice president for the organization, before he stopped responding to emails.

And, again, the deeper you dive into the Onward Internet effort, the more awkward and gag-inducing it becomes:

“Sorry we can’t come to the phone right now,” the call-in greeting says. “We just got wind of the juiciest celebrity rumor and we’re working to confirm it. So please leave your suggestion for the future of the internet at the beep and visit Onward Internet dot com next month to see what we’ve done with it.”

No joke. That’s really the message you get when you call. Again, it sounds like big powerful cable execs trying to think what a teenager might actually say.

The effort’s Twitter feed is chock full of these awkward attempts at sounding young and cool. It apparently sprang up on September 3rd, a couple of weeks before the FCC’s comment period closed… and almost no one noticed, despite it pretending to “represent the internet.” After a silly “test” post, it claimed to be “the Internet’s official Twitter account” (and the only responses were people calling it out for being astroturfing). And then, here’s its attempt at being a regular Twitter account.

I love that the awkward request for a retweet got… a single retweet. And it, too, got a response from someone asking “Who do you actually work for? Who signs your checks?” The one retweet came from a guy named Christopher Perry who (yes, you guessed it) runs an ad agency that notes he was the “art director” for Onward Internet. Here’s a tip: when the only person retweeting your lame, wannabe, pleading attempts to get retweeted by young people is… the guy who created the campaign in the first place, you’ve failed. Big time.

After a couple of days, the Twitter feed shifts to pushing that insanely lame video, calling it “the #MOST #AMAZING #VIDEO about the Internet #EVER!” because, don’t you know, the kids these days, they loves them some hashtags. They keep posting the video with new attempts to sound cool each time. “Check out this sweet video.” “People, this is important!” The whole thing is ridiculous and delusional. As mentioned by ProPublica, the video itself is… terrible. It just keeps repeating slang and trying to sound ironic.

It repeatedly references lolcats (because that’s what kids like, right?) and even has a discussion on how to pronounce “Gif.” It’s just trying way too hard. And the results seem to match. It doesn’t appear like it got very much engagement at all, and from the looks of it, the NCTA spent a fair amount on it, despite Dietz’s half-hearted attempt at denying its participation.

Eventually, once the ProPublica story was published, he finally provided a statement, claiming that they kept NCTA’s name off of it because they wanted “unbiased feedback.” Uh huh.

“We know that network neutrality is important to Internet users and we share the vision that the Internet remains an open and unfettered experience for all to enjoy,” he said in his statement. “We’ve kept NCTA’s brand off Onward, Internet because we want to collect unbiased feedback directly from individuals about what they want for the future of the Internet and how it can become even better than it is today. The cable industry is proud of our role as a leading Internet provider in the U.S. but we feel it’s important to hear directly from consumers about how they envision the future so we can work hard on delivering it.”

By lying to them and trying to pretend to be cool and young and to actually get the internet, when it’s so painfully obvious that they don’t. Besides, no one believes that. We’ve all seen how these astroturfing efforts work, and the focus is on getting these people to sign up to later pretend that they support your vision of cable dominance over the internet.

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Companies: comcast, ncta

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Comments on “Cable Astroturfing Effort Comes Off Like When Your Dad Tries To Sound Like A Teenager”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Obviously they will try to sound and look young. That’s precisely the audience they completely lost (which will be adults that won’t have cable at all). Instead they could be focused in going full streaming and actually offering these young people content the way they want, where and when they want and for a fair price. But why do that when we can spend thousands on an useless campaign and Jetson’s clothing?

The bright side is that the folks that still fuel cable are both cutting it or flat out dying so their days are counted. The sad part is that we won’t have initiatives like this to mock 🙁

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hmm, why would internet connections die with cable?

The cable companies own a lot of the final mile delivery of the Internet, which is delivered over their cable system. This give them a huge lever if and when it looks like their cable TV business is dying. If we die, Internet connections go dark is a creditable threat to wield to increase their control over the Internet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…if cable dies, so does many peoples Internet connections. Alternatively they package Internet with a cable packages…

Years ago my work had bundled phone and internet services. When that bundle went down – and it went down more often than we thought it would – we had nothing. No phones, no internet, therefore no business.

Ever since then I refuse to bundle. I have phone from one provider and internet from another. I don’t care if I’m paying a bit more for separate providers; I am not going through having everything go down because of one company or connection.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Yet another red flag word

we feel it’s important to hear directly from consumers

Whenever I heard people being referred to as “consumers” in an inappropriate way like this (i.e., outside of an economics discussion), I know that I’m hearing from someone who views other people only as wallets, not as actual human beings.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve not had cable for a long time now when it comes to tv. Been well over a decade. I’m not a young man so don’t go lumping me in with the old folks that are seen to keep the cable tv business as it is going. I cut the cord and haven’t purchased a tv since they went digital and got rid of the one I had.

Been just fine without it and sure don’t miss the commercials nor the just too dumb to watch programs.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The cable industry is proud of our role as a leading Internet provider in the U.S.”

The fact they can say this with a straight face and have it be factually true at the same time really shows how much of a strangle hold they have on the internet in the US.

Everyone hates these guys but they have to use them or else not get any connection… Yes, it is that bad.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m sure that they honestly are proud. They’re raking in the profit like there’s no tomorrow, they’re having some success in pushing through legislation that solidifies and enhances their position, and their monopolistic footprint continues to grow year after year.

By their definition, their business is incredibly successful. I have no doubt that they’re proud of that, and are completely ignorant of the fact that they should be filled with shame.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed… the Internet IS the “Internet Suggestion Box”.

I guess you could add that Google is the real suggestion box — and it could also be argued that is the suggestion box. But a physical box? I’m thinking they were trying to appeal to people who WANTED to be young and hip but didn’t have a smartphone.

I mean, the first thing to do if you really wanted an “Internet Suggestion Box” would be to set up some free WiFi where people had to fill in a survey to get online.

Anonymous Coward says:

Looking at that astroturfage (astroturfery?), I feel like if I did enough research on it, I could pin down exactly how many years out of date they sound. (Offhand ballpark estimate: 5-10 years.)

Maybe someone should do a scientific study on the subject. On average, just how outdated do people sound when they desperately try to pretend to be relevant? The “dad trying to sound like a teenager” phenomenon has always been around, but nobody’s ever quantified it yet.

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