Bogus Net Neutrality Comments Linked To Trumpland
from the flood-the-zone-with-bullshit dept
As we mentioned last October, there’s several state AGs now investigating who was behind those bogus comments that flooded the FCC’s website during its controversial net neutrality repeal. Millions of those fake comments used the identities of dead or otherwise oblivious people, and were posted by a bot pulling from a hacked database of some kind. The goal appears to have been to flood the zone with bullshit, undermining trust in the public’s only chance to comment on what may just be the least-popular tech policy decision in modern internet history (though SOPA/PIPA got pretty damn close).
Gizmodo’s Dell Cameron, who has been an absolute marvel at digging through this bog, has dropped an impressive bombshell that fills in a lot of longstanding gaps in identifying who was behind this astroturfing effort. The subject is weedy, so here’s the pertinent bit:
“An organization run by a former Trump campaign statewide director is being investigated by the New York attorney general?s office for its role in submitting potentially hundreds of thousands of fraudulent comments to the Federal Communications Commission during the agency?s 2017 efforts to rollback Obama-era net neutrality rules.”
NY’s AG had subpoenaed all of the companies that submitted bulk comments to the FCC during the repeal, including consumer groups. Groups on both sides of the debate used what I affectionately like to refer to as “outrage-o-matic” form letter systems, which simply let real people send a form letter comment of complaint or support to government. That’s perfectly legal.
What may not be legal is identity fraud, as well as a lot of this murkier, coordinated behavior Gizmodo uncovered by astroturfing organizations like “Free Our Internet,” a fake consumer-advocacy firm specifically built to apparently con the gullible into thinking net neutrality was some sordid “globalist” cabal:
“What?s remained unreported until now is the source of the 37 identical Sharpsburg comments, which match those submitted on behalf of more than 300,000 Americans nationwide. That comment, which rails against Google, its former chairman Eric Schmidt, and ?global billionaires like George Soros,? was authored by a group known as Free Our Internet, according to a page on its website, which has since been deleted.
Free Our Internet?s campaign against net neutrality, which it presents as a conspiracy by ?liberal globalists to take over our Internet,? was first announced in a now-deleted press release on the website of Raven Strategies, a political consultancy whose client list includes, among others, Donald Trump for President.”
Christie-Lee McNally, the president of Raven Strategies and the executive director of Free Our Internet, was tapped by Trump two years ago to become his statewide director in Maine, where she formerly served as executive director for the Republican Party. According to the bio on her firm?s website, she also served on the 58th presidential inaugural committee, working with cabinet-level nominees on the day of Trump?s swearing-in.
Free Our Internet was just one of several Trump-linked organizations Gizmodo discovered flooded the FCC comment system, social media, and the newswires with bogus support for the FCC’s historically-unpopular handout to big telecom. The utter nonsensical claim that protecting the health of the internet from Comcast and AT&T is a Soros-fueled globalist cabal to “silence Conservative thought” was then in turn parroted by none other than Roger Stone:
Who had also been seeding the field with intellectually incontinent editorials on the subject:
“The Tech Left, funded largely by George Soros, had decided to champion under the banner of a benign-sounding ?Net Neutrality? campaign and seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grab the moral high ground in their determination to allow the giant edge providers to censor the Internet to suit their ideological preferences ? ridding the Internet of conservative and libertarian content.”
This claim is, as you know if you have even a fleeting understanding of net neutrality, complete and total dog shit.
Here in reality, giant ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have spent years abusing the lack of broadband competition to hamstring competitors and drive up your monthly bill in a variety of obnoxious ways. Net neutrality rules were just a stopgap measure to prevent this from happening until somebody in either party grows a spine, stands up to AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, and embraces policies that actually drive more competition to a clearly broken market (no, this doesn’t magically occur on its own if you gut overight of natural telecom monopolies).
Because nobody likes Comcast, Trumpland and the telecom sector needed to figure out some alternative messaging to confuse folks who likely didn’t fully understand this complicated subject. It should be clear by now that one of the more favored tactics of Trumpland is to flood the zone with absolute bullshit in a bid to shake the very foundations of truth itself, distracting the easily distracted from what, more often than not, winds up being a ham-handed handout to giant, unpopular corporations. In this case, some of the least popular corporations in America (which is truly saying something).
Flooding the zone with nonsense to disorient those looking for true north is an effective disinformation tactic, especially in a country long-ago rendered intellectually mute by decades of facts-optional, intentionally-divisive partisan infighting. In this instance, Trumplanders (and likely ISP lobbyists) knew that killing net neutrality would result in a massive wave of anger by the bipartisan majority of Americans who (quite correctly) understand the move was little more than a grotesque handout to predatory telecom monopolies.
So Trumpland crafted “alternative” messaging, completely unhinged from the truth, and flooded the internet with it in the hopes this would diminish the impact of the real public backlash. It’s not clear it worked, but it likely did achieve its primary goal: creating questions about the validity of user complaints to the FCC, thereby diminishing their importance as a permanent record of consumer anger. It seems that may have been the motivation for the FCC’s decision to make up that fake DDOS attack (which you’ll note tried to claim angry John Oliver viewers were “attacking” the FCC website) as well.
What’s very clear is there’s still a lot of information to come on this as numerous state AGs and the GAO continue their investigation into this ouroborus of bullshit, and a lot of these policy shops and lobbying outfits should be very nervous right now. What’s also clear is FCC boss Ajit Pai, with his own links to many of these Trumpland allies, went well out of his way to stop law enforcement from learning more. How much coordination occurred between the Pai FCC, incumbent ISPs, and this tangled web of news outlets, lobbying firms, and policy shops is going to be the million dollar question.
None of this is going to be a great look for Pai’s FCC as more details are uncovered, and the court system tries to determine whether his agency’s hand out to big telecom, propped up by mountains of bogus telecom lobbyist claims, violated federal law or FCC rules.