Two Separate Studies Show That The Vast Majority Of People Who Said They Support Ajit Pai's Plan… Were Fake

from the fake-news dept

The fact that the FCC comments for Ajit Pai’s net neutrality repeal were stuffed with fake comments is nothing new at all. We first reported on it back in May, and reports of comments from totally fake people or long dead people continue to pop up. Even worse are multiple stories of people having their own identities used to file comments, often opposed to their own views. The FCC has consistently responded that it doesn’t care. New York’s Attorney General has been investigating this as fraud, and asked the FCC to delay its net neutrality repeal until after the investigation was complete — a request the FCC completely ignored. And, as we just noted a little while ago, Schneiderman recently announced that he’s found over 2 million fake comments.

But it’s easy to say “well, all these fake comments mean all the comments can be ignored.” But it’s important to look at the source of these fake comments and on which side they ended up. And just this week two new studies have come out, both taking a really deep dive into the fake comments. The Wall Street Journal did an investigation and reached out to 2,757 people who had supposedly commented. 72% of them said they had not posted the comments.

But even more thorough and more interesting is a new report that just came out this morning, from Startup Policy Lab’s “Truth in Public Comments” project. Its methodology was even more thorough than the Wall Street Journal’s. It took a random sample of 450,000 public commenters, and asked them “did you submit the comment quoted below to the FCC, yes or no?” The results are astounding:

88% of survey respondents whose emails were used to submit pro-repeal comments replied, ?no,? that they did not submit the comment . Conversely, only 4% of pro-net neutrality respondents said that they did not submit the comment attributed to them.

Let’s unpack that again to make it clear. Out of a fairly massive sample of FCC commenters nearly all of the ones supporting Pai’s plan were fake. And nearly all of the ones supporting the existing rules were real. Here, see it in graphical form:

And this happened across multiple samples that the TiPC project ran. Each time, it showed that nearly all of the support for Pai’s plan was fake. And nearly all the support for existing rules was real.

Also, quite telling: in sending out these emails asking people whether or not they filed, most of the responses they got came from people who supported net neutrality. The response rate among those who supported Pai? Tiny. Because most of them appear to be fake.

This is not to say that there weren’t fake comments in support of the old rules. They did exist. But as the TiPC report notes, the “fakes” in support of the old rule were fairly obvious — using obviously fake emails and names. The comments in support of Pai, while fake, used real emails and names that tried to appear real:

The FCC received spam comments that supported both the pro-net neutrality and pro-repeal. The difference, however, is that the majority of spam comments associated with email addresses supporting pro-net neutrality were ignored by the FCC because they were obviously fake. Conversely, we must conclude that the spam comments associated with email addresses that supported pro-repeal email addresses were a deliberate campaign to evade the eyes of regulators and influence the rulemaking process.

The discrepancy rests in the nature of the bounceback of emails. The survey resulted in a high bounce rate for emails associated with pro-net neutrality using unsophisticated approaches. Examples of an unsophisticated spam comment are those the FCC acknowledged are, ?[o] bviously, fake comments […] by the Flash, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Superman are not going to dramatically impact our deliberations on this issue. ?

By contrast, it appears that the spam comments for emails associated with pro-repeal comments reflect deliberate action to use stolen identities. In these instances, millions of Americans may have had their identity harvested for the political objectives of supporting the repeal of net neutrality laws, regardless of whether that individual agreed with the position or even had a position on the proposal. Accordingly, unlike the submission from Batman, which the FCC was correct to ignore, millions of Americans had their voice taken and repurposed without their consent.

No matter where you stand on the question of net neutrality, this should be a major concern. Public commenting is important, but when the system is totally hijacked in a way that appears designed to deliberately skew or merely taint the results, it does no one any good at all.

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Comments on “Two Separate Studies Show That The Vast Majority Of People Who Said They Support Ajit Pai's Plan… Were Fake”

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Anonymous Coward says:

2 back to back articles on FCC lying about coments?

So what? Everyone knows they lie.

This reminds of one of those tactics where people are so busy talking about a bunch of lies that the real criminal yet to be caught is getting away. But since they found a liar, they make them a scapegoat so that they can sit back after fucking that person over and doing nothing more.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’re both right.

The FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed by the President, so it’s the politicians who get the blame. But that still that means that the FCC staff must implement and defend the policies of those political appointees, however corrupt.

The FCC is like a beanbag chair. It’s shaped by the ass of the last person who sat on it. Now Trump sits on it, leaving an Ajit Pei shaped impression.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: So what ?

That’s…not true at all. Polling shows something like 76% of the population supports net neutrality. Even the same ISPs who have spent the past dozen years trying to stop net neutrality are swearing that they’ll totally preserve net neutrality without any oversight, because saying “we oppose net neutrality” is an incredibly unpopular thing to say.

SkyLeach (profile) says:

Re: Re: So what ?

Machine learning is fast approaching (within the next 2-5 years) the ability to sort most shill accounts and fake comments from real users/avatars/profiles.

The data is obvious to system admins and software engineers, but adoption of existing technology to screen out shill accounts is slow and expensive.

You will see a huge change in the quality of public discussion on the internet very soon.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Wikipedia: FCC: Offices

The FCC has eleven Staff Offices. The FCC’s Offices provide support services to the Bureaus.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recommends policies to prevent fraud in agency operations. The Inspector General recommends corrective action where appropriate, referring criminal matters to the United States Department of Justice for potential prosecution.

Have they done so? Or did Pai have their door bricked shut and wallpapered over with everyone in it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Why does it matter? The APA only requires a comment period open to the public. It is not a vote, and agencies don’t float general ideas as a gauge for public sentiment through the rulemaking process. The FCC can proceed with the rule whether one person or one hundred million comment. The FCC is only soliciting comments to comply with the APA and nothing more.

In fact, trying delete comments deemed fake or otherwise doing anything beyond passively collecting comments submitted opens the rule up to legal challenge. Why would Pai do anything to give his opponents additional ammunition in the inevitable lawsuit. Pai is following the letter of the law and taking the least risky path available by ignoring the false comment side show.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

but the FCC did not rely at all on popularity

Neither did the last federal election, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Sure, the FCC should rely on common sense, expert advice and experience. But they’re not doing that. Faked popularity is about the only thing between them and demands that they be thrown in jail on corruption charges.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Not exactly. Pai’s basically said that it doesn’t matter how many people commented, the only opinions that matter are expert opinions. (He’s also somewhat contradicted this position by saying that most of the comments were fake anyway and opinion was basically split.)

His argument is that public opinion doesn’t matter, the fact is that Title II regulations have caused a decrease in broadband investment.

That, of course, is also bullshit, but it’s the core of his defense.

Still, his complete dismissal of public opinion may hurt him in court.

Corruption charges? Nah. I think he’ll lose in court, but I don’t think he or any of the other commissioners will ever suffer any personal punishment.

rebrad (profile) says:

Good Job

Thank God, we got the government out of the internet. I can’t trust government to protect my freedoms. Why would I want them to tell others and me what is fair or neutral? The great thing about the internet is that technology has always been ahead of what the government and the corporate world can control. Just think what telecommunications would be like if the FCC didn’t install AT&T and the regional Bells as the single provider of popular communications, we probably would be farther ahead technically. We don’t need big daddy. Don’t fall for the governments false propaganda.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Good Job

As BernardoVerda wrote in another topic:

Chess or Poker, Baseball or Basketball, the Justice system or the Economy… Without rules (a.k.a. "regulations") and effective enforcement, what you’re left with just doesn’t work.

(Hell — eventually we figured out that even full out War is worse for everyone, without some regulation. )

But I’m sure you actually believe what you wrote. And I’m sure this post will be flagged as abusive for saying so.

JB says:

Re: Good Job

Well. the truth is the internet was from Government. Most if not all of its innovation came because a private capitalistic company wasn’t involved. That wasn’t until like 2000 and now we rank the bottom for internet access thanks to Comcast and its goons. They want to trickle out the internet when they want, how they want, for what price they feel they want. Great , awesome, ok let em be free as many myopic views say.. Ok then its free, but then my town / city will own that telephone pole in my yard. Normally Private industry doesn’t create, or make, or do much R&D into new fields.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

The existence of fake comments is almost inevitable. Nobody debates that there are fakes – on both sides of the debate.

The question is who and why.

I think the 2 million or so comments were spammed very intentionally to be caught. They are way too obvious. They look like someone wanted to be sure that they would be noticed, reported, and derided in places like this.

Unless you figure out the source, pointing out that there are fake comments isn’t really useful. Cross them off the list, and move on.

For what it’s worth, I consider “form mail” stuff to be equally useless. It should be reported as a single message with a list of signatories, so as not to bury the comments of people who took the time to actually write from their hearts and not doing a copy pasta job.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“The existence of fake comments is almost inevitable. Nobody debates that there are fakes – on both sides of the debate.”

So why waste the resources. This is sorta like those town hall things where (some) people are allowed a few minutes to vent in front of their “leaders” about issues important to them (but their leaders) while those on the panel try to not fall asleep due to their indifference. Then the panel votes as they all agreed to prior to the meeting – making the meeting a waste but good window dressing for any passers by to see. Facades are all the rage these days.

Dave Peddler says:

Re: Re:

Actually, yes.

Research firm Empirata analyzed results for validated email and unique comments. Filtering duplicate comments, email address and international submissions idintifying ip addresses (444k from Russia opposing repeal).

"More than 7.75 million comments – the largest percentage of any set of comments (36% of the total comments) – appear to have been generated by self-described “temporary” and “disposable” email domains attributed to and with nearly identical language. Virtually all of those comments oppose repealing Title II. Assuming that comments submitted from these email domains are illegitimate, sentiment favors repeal of Title II (61% for, 38% against)."

"9.93 million comments were filed from submissions listing the same physical address and email, indicating that many entities filed multiple comments. This was more prevalent in comments against repeal of Title II (accounting for 82% of the total duplicates)"

After filtering out international IP’s, fake emails and duplicates, the results were 61% in support of Repeal, 31% Against.

Funny, this contradicts both techdirt and WSJ. Glad somebody did the homework.

c says:

Fake News

Guess what you can bitch and complain about it. to bad its done. And guess what we are going to be fine. All the Liberal fear mongering.

FCC and FTC will monitor companies and if they start doing something wrong they get em. Good enough for me.

Don’t fear something that hasn’t happened yet.

Bunch of complaining people about something that will not happen.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Fake News

FCC and FTC will monitor companies and if they start doing something wrong they get em. Good enough for me.

If you’d looked at the sidebar, you’d have seen an article titled No, The FTC Won’t Save You Once Net Neutrality Rules Are Killed. Perhaps you should read it.

Don’t fear something that hasn’t happened yet.

Leaving aside that that’s a very stupid statement (waiting until after a thing happens to be afraid of it is a pretty poor way to avoid bad things happening — "Hm, I’m standing on these railroad tracks and there’s a train coming, but I’m not afraid of being hit by it, because it hasn’t happened yet!"), we’re not afraid of something that hasn’t happened yet, we’re afraid of something that has happened, repeatedly.

This list from has been making the rounds; here it is again:

MADISON RIVER: In 2005, North Carolina ISP Madison River Communications blocked the voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) service Vonage. Vonage filed a complaint with the FCC after receiving a slew of customer complaints. The FCC stepped in to sanction Madison River and prevent further blocking, but it lacks the authority to stop this kind of abuse today.

COMCAST: In 2005, the nation’s largest ISP, Comcast, began secretly blocking peer-to-peer technologies that its customers were using over its network. Users of services like BitTorrent and Gnutella were unable to connect to these services. 2007 investigations from the Associated Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others confirmed that Comcast was indeed blocking or slowing file-sharing applications without disclosing this fact to its customers.

TELUS: In 2005, Canada’s second-largest telecommunications company, Telus, began blocking access to a server that hosted a website supporting a labor strike against the company. Researchers at Harvard and the University of Toronto found that this action resulted in Telus blocking an additional 766 unrelated sites.

AT&T: From 2007–2009, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services on the iPhone. The wireless provider wanted to prevent iPhone users from using any application that would allow them to make calls on such “over-the-top” voice services. The Google Voice app received similar treatment from carriers like AT&T when it came on the scene in 2009.

WINDSTREAM: In 2010, Windstream Communications, a DSL provider with more than 1 million customers at the time, copped to hijacking user-search queries made using the Google toolbar within Firefox. Users who believed they had set the browser to the search engine of their choice were redirected to Windstream’s own search portal and results.

MetroPCS: In 2011, MetroPCS, at the time one of the top-five U.S. wireless carriers, announced plans to block streaming video over its 4G network from all sources except YouTube. MetroPCS then threw its weight behind Verizon’s court challenge against the FCC’s 2010 open internet ruling, hoping that rejection of the agency’s authority would allow the company to continue its anti-consumer practices.

PAXFIRE: In 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that several small ISPs were redirecting search queries via the vendor Paxfire. The ISPs identified in the initial Electronic Frontier Foundation report included Cavalier, Cogent, Frontier, Fuse, DirecPC, RCN and Wide Open West. Paxfire would intercept a person’s search request at Bing and Yahoo and redirect it to another page. By skipping over the search service’s results, the participating ISPs would collect referral fees for delivering users to select websites.

AT&T, SPRINT and VERIZON: From 2011–2013, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon blocked Google Wallet, a mobile-payment system that competed with a similar service called Isis, which all three companies had a stake in developing.

EUROPE: A 2012 report from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications found that violations of Net Neutrality affected at least one in five users in Europe. The report found that blocked or slowed connections to services like VOIP, peer-to-peer technologies, gaming applications and email were commonplace.

VERIZON: In 2012, the FCC caught Verizon Wireless blocking people from using tethering applications on their phones. Verizon had asked Google to remove 11 free tethering applications from the Android marketplace. These applications allowed users to circumvent Verizon’s $20 tethering fee and turn their smartphones into Wi-Fi hot spots. By blocking those applications, Verizon violated a Net Neutrality pledge it made to the FCC as a condition of the 2008 airwaves auction.

AT&T: In 2012, AT&T announced that it would disable the FaceTime video-calling app on its customers’ iPhones unless they subscribed to a more expensive text-and-voice plan. AT&T had one goal in mind: separating customers from more of their money by blocking alternatives to AT&T’s own products.

VERIZON: During oral arguments in Verizon v. FCC in 2013, judges asked whether the phone giant would favor some preferred services, content or sites over others if the court overruled the agency’s existing open internet rules. Verizon counsel Helgi Walker had this to say: “I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.” Walker’s admission might have gone unnoticed had she not repeated it on at least five separate occasions during arguments.

Now go hang out on some railroad tracks.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fake News

Great post, but a little bit, umm, twisted.

Blocking of Bittorrent and such was at the time in no small part a network congestion issue. At peak, torrent was well over 50% of the traffic on a network, and people seeding and such was driving up network congestion to a point that other customers were getting slow service. Throttling or even outrightly blocking what was causing massive network congestion shouldn’t be an issue. Even under NN rules, it could have been done.

You also list Canadian and European ISPs.

Blocking 4G video on wireless networks is also very much a network congestion management thing. 2011 is a long time ago when it comes to wireless development, people pushing video over the network at that point were literally killing regular network availability for everyone else. Good network management says deal with the issue. This will be a recurring theme going forward, wireless has limits.

” “I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.””

In a free and open market, companies looking to innovate do exactly that. Your paragraph, more than anything, explains why Net Neutrality wasn’t good for consumers in all ways.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Fake News

“Blocking of Bittorrent and such was at the time in no small part a network congestion issue.”

That was the excuse they used, sure. Plenty of evidence to suggest they were just being pressured by their content-owning arms to “do something”, though.

“At peak, torrent was well over 50% of the traffic on a network”

As Netflix often is right now. Hmmm… you just supported removing blocks on them doing the same thing to them, didn’t you?

“driving up network congestion to a point that other customers were getting slow service”

Again, that was the excuse used, but there’s plenty of evidence that what really happened is that their lack of investment caught up with them and they were surprised by the first widespread popular use of the bandwidth they advertised was available. That usage is only going to go up, and they’ve been forced to invest by traffic that they can’t block or shape eith the same excuses – until now.

You really do swallow corporation excuses whole, while picking apart even the simplest real life explanation by others, don’t you?

“In a free and open market, companies looking to innovate do exactly that”

Shame you have no such thing in the US, then, isn’t it?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Fake News

“All the Liberal fear mongering. “

This is an issue that is (or at least should be) bipartisan. I’m sorry you got fooled by the propaganda telling you otherwise. Let me guess – you get all your news from corporations who benefit directly from NN being removed?

“FCC and FTC will monitor companies”

Would that be the same FCC who just handed control of the internet over to those corporations, and the same FTC whose leadership say they won’t be able to do much about it? Yeah…

“Don’t fear something that hasn’t happened yet”

Newflash – the things that concerned people already happened, Title II and NN rules were the reaction to stop those things.

tec says:

“Blocking of Bittorrent and such was at the time in no small part a network congestion issue.”

Keep in mind the severely oversubscribed plant they were trying to keep afloat. More bandwidth was readily available and you can’t say that High Speed ISPs weren’t making enough profit.

“At peak, torrent was well over 50% of the traffic on a network”

I’d like to see your source for that info. I’ve worked on the backend for high speed ISPs for the last 20+ years (well, started out with Prodigy Classic (dialup-not HSD), then Prodigy internet (dialup), then Charter Cable Modem, and onto FTTU where I am now). The point being, it was gross oversubscription that was causing the peak hour congestion. Overly optimistic “guestimates” as to how much bandwidth would be used. We ran an entire city with standard 3mbps cable modem service on a 45mbps pipe….for MONTHS! You do the math. So to keep from looking ridiculous, they took a common enemy (the dirty pirates) and blamed it all on them. Show me proof of your 50% claim and I’ll listen.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Not Neutrality

My name was present on pro-repeal comments several times as well (something like 3 to 6, I forget exactly), but none of them were with addresses – or, I think, even addresses in states – where I’ve ever lived, so I didn’t try to report that as a fraudulent use of my identity.

I could believe that those pro-repeal comments are faked, but I’m not convinced that they’re necessarily impersonating me; I’d think it would be at least as likely that at least one of these people really did/does exist with that name at that address, and that it is that person whose identity was fraudulently used to post the comment.

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