A Bot Is Flooding The FCC Website With Fake Anti-Net Neutrality Comments... In Alphabetical Order

from the faux-outrage dept

As previously noted, the FCC has begun fielding comments on its plan to dismantle net neutrality protections. As of the writing of this post, nearly 556,000 users have left comments on the FCC's plan to roll back the rules, which will begin in earnest with a likely 2-1 partisan vote on May 18. The lion's share of that comment total were driven by John Oliver's recent rant on HBO. Many others are the result of what I affectionately call "outrage-o-matic" e-mail campaigns by either net neutrality activists or think tanks that let people comment without having to expend calories on original thought.

Earlier in the week I was looking through the comments and noted how a large number of them all made the exact same (aggressively inaccurate) claim:

"The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation. I urge the Federal Communications Commission to end the bureaucratic regulatory overreach of the internet known as Title II and restore the bipartisan light-touch regulatory consensus that enabled the internet to flourish for more than 20 years."

This in and of itself didn't seem like that big a deal, given the aforementioned campaigns often let commenters quickly file a form letter with the agency.

But it was notable that if this was a form letter, the people who were filling it out magically organized themselves in perfect alphabetical order. And when ZDNet decided to do a deeper dive into these alphabetical duplicate comments, they found that they appear to be produced by a bot that's grabbing the names from somewhere (perhaps public voter registration records or a previous data breach). What's more, the reporter managed to get a hold of many of the folks that purportedly filed the comments, and found several that state they never filed the comments in question, and have no idea what net neutrality even is:

"We reached out to two-dozen people by phone, and we left voicemails when nobody picked up. A couple of people late Tuesday called back and confirmed that they had not left any messages on the FCC's website. One of the returning callers specifically said they didn't know what net neutrality was. A third person reached in a Facebook message Tuesday also confirmed that they had not left any comments on any website."

Numerous Reddit users also spotted the bot campaign, and noted the language used by the 128,000 (and counting) phony commenters was pulled from a 2010 press release by the Center for Individual Freedom, which does not appear to be driving the comments with a corresponding campaign. As of this writing, nobody has identified the driver of the bot, and the FCC has stated it doesn't comment on public proceeding input.

ISPs do have a history of trying to artificially pad anti-net neutrality sentiment, since finding a critical mass of people who blindly support policies that only help companies like Comcast can be... difficult. As Vice News pointed out in 2014, a lobbying organization named the DCI Group (which receives funding from Verizon) paid individuals to flood websites and the FCC comment system with anti-net neutrality sentiement. Whether the work of a similar group, think tank, or other organization, you just know you have a quality argument when you need to pay people (or bot masters) to support your position.

Filed Under: bots, fake comments, fcc, net neutrality

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2017 @ 8:18pm

    Re: Will Leigh Edit This post too?

    Wow, fake nick posting again. Great job Leigh! I hope Shiva drags your pirate ass out to the back and puts a bullet through your forehead.

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