Report Falsely Blames The EFF For Fraudulent Net Neutrality Comments

from the extremely-greasy-shenanigans dept

So we've discussed at length how somebody is gaming the FCC's comment system, using a bot to post hundreds of thousands of fake comments in support of the agency's plan to kill net neutrality. We've also made it pretty clear that the FCC doesn't appear interested in doing much about this, because these bogus (and in some instances dead) people "support" the FCC's plan to gut consumer protections governing the already uncompetitive broadband market.

I've had some first-hand experience with the FCC's apathy, given I've been trying to get them to remove (or even address) a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming I run an "unregistered PAC" and am upset that Title II "diminished broadband investment, stifled innovation, and left American consumers potentially on the hook for a new broadband tax" (none of which is true, it should go without saying). While the agency says it's looking into my complaint, you simply don't get the sense that tackling public proceeding comment fraud will be a top agency priority anytime soon.

Initial analysis of the FCC comments suggest it's largely the anti-net neutrality side that's been engaged in chicanery at any real scale. But in an obvious attempt to try and deflate that media narrative, there's a growing attempt to insist that massive, industrialized abuse of the FCC's net neutrality comment docket is something both sides are engaged in. For example, a report released last week (pdf) by the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) policy and lobbying think tank proclaimed that "hundreds of thousands" of bogus pro net neutrality comments were filed with the FCC, most of them coming from the EFF.

A report over at the Daily Caller quickly parroted the report's findings:

"More than 100,000 comments supporting government regulation of the internet appear to have been automatically submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a left-leaning nonprofit, according to a forensic analysis published Wednesday.

The responses likely did not come organically from real people, which the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) forum for public comment on net neutrality is intended to be for, according to The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC). Rather, the NLPC claims the comments seem to be artificially submitted by the EFF since language used is highly similar to EFF’s submission platform and both the email addresses and the physical addresses of the listed people are fake, or don’t exist.

But in an amusing takedown over at the EFF website, the group calls the NLPC's analysis "false" and "flawed." The original NLPC report claims that the EFF used the agency's own Dear FCC form letter website to file around 100,000 comments using fake names and e-mail addresses. But the EFF dissected its own data from this period to highlight that this claim simply wasn't true:

"So how do we know NLPC’s report is wrong? For one thing, we counted the number of comments people have submitted to the FCC through our system. That number is nowhere near the 100,000 comments NLPC said we filed.

Further, just before the sunshine period—when the FCC stopped accepting comments—we started storing copies of comments submitted through our system, because we weren’t sure how the FCC would treat comments submitted during that period. This week, we searched through all of the stored comments for the names and email address domains listed in NLPC’s report, and didn’t find a single match."

Additional analysis of the data found that whoever did submit the 100,000 or so comments, didn't even use the EFF's own tool. An errant apostrophe (the FCC's system uses "right single quotation marks" while the submitted comments used a neutral "typewriter apostrophe") indicates the text was copied and pasted from the EFF site, but wasn't submitted from the EFF's tool itself:

"Why does the difference matter? Because it shows that whoever submitted the 100,000 identical comments the NLPC report mentions copied and pasted the text to make the comments look like they came through EFF’s DearFCC.org site, when they did not. If NLPC had looked closely at the comments they would have noticed the difference, and realized that the comments weren’t generated by EFF’s website. Apparently, they did not."

So according to the EFF's analysis, someone cut and pasted a part of the EFF's own form letter, then submitted it using fake names, e-mail addresses and physical addresses more than 100,000 times. Now it's entirely possible that somebody in favor of net neutrality thought they were "helping" by engaging in this behavior (though given the rules' popularity, it's not really necessary). But it's also entirely possible (having watched telecom lobbyists for the better part of two decades) that someone did this as an attempt to make net neutrality supporters look bad, and overshadow media reports of the bot being used to stuff the ballot box.

You'll note that the lobbying and policy think tank behind the report, the National Legal and Policy Center, opposes net neutrality -- and didn't make so much as a peep over the last few months as someone used a bot to fill the FCC comment system with bogus support for the FCC's plan to kill net neutrality. But in a blog post discussing their findings, the group is quick to lambaste the EFF for violating consumer privacy, despite what pretty clearly wound up being some deeply flawed analysis:

"For groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation that claim to champion consumers’ online privacy, it would be an unprecedented privacy breach if they knowingly culled other people’s email addresses from spam databases and without their consent falsely submitted comments into the docket,” Flaherty continued. “At this point, the full extent of the problem is unclear, but it definitely deserves further investigation."

And when the EFF made it clear the comments didn't come from its system and the group had no part in filing them, the NPLC had a rather unique interpretation of the EFF's statement:

So again, there's two options here: someone supporting net neutrality took the time to try and pad the numbers by cutting and pasting the EFF's form letter into the comment system, using fake names and e-mail addresses. Or, someone opposing net neutrality used the EFF's form letter to try and frame the group for falsely stuffing the ballot box, further eroding trust in the validity of the FCC process. And given the lion's share of legitimate comments support keeping the rules intact, this latter possibility offers some obvious benefits to net neutrality opponents.

Hopefully we'll see some additional, independent and professional analysis of the data down the road. Either way, as with my own experiences above, this could all be prevented by the FCC actually giving a damn and policing abuse of its own comment system. As the EFF quite correctly notes, refusing to do so will only work to discredit the quality of the legitimate comments being made ahead of the final vote to kill the consumer protections later this year.

Filed Under: comments, fake comments, fcc, net neutrality, open internet
Companies: eff, nlpc


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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 7 Jun 2017 @ 12:43pm

    "If NLPC had looked closely... they would have noticed the difference... Apparently, they did not."

    Edit: "Apparently, they did not give a crap, because it didn't align with their narrative."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 1:40pm

    Left Leaning?

    "More than 100,000 comments supporting government regulation of the internet appear to have been automatically submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a left-leaning nonprofit, according to a forensic analysis published Wednesday."

    I hardly think the EFF is left leaning in any significant way. They certainly value personal liberty in all aspects of modern technology, but putting people's rights above corporate and government policy is hardly the reserve of the left.


    As an aside, this administration's mastery of blackwhite is incredible. I have to spend an absurd amount of time explaining to my elderly relatives that what the current FCC is saying is the exact opposite of the truth without actually saying they are lying, because if I call them liars then my relatives stop paying attention. They somehow became convinced that Net Neutrality is the same thing as the Fairness Doctrine and it's a plot to put liberal lies on their Fox News.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 2:00pm

      Re: Left Leaning?

      Right-wing extremists just can't come to grips with the fact that reality has a liberal "bias."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 3:57pm

      Re: Left Leaning?

      EFF is relatively popular among libertarian types and the liberal left. That doesn't mean they aren't biased, but they seem to at least try and appear trustworthy to all.

      If you want some left leaning group operating on about the same area, ACLU, is the thing. They are more populistic and clearly try to appeal more to their base than to the politicians. That something they encourage has also become part of the statistics some right wing PACs use to disqualify politicians on probably tells more about the extremism and irrationality in modern politics than anything else...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Jun 2017 @ 12:29am

      Re: Left Leaning?

      "I hardly think the EFF is left leaning in any significant way"

      As the saying goes, reality has a left leaning bias.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jun 2017 @ 10:54am

      Re: Left Leaning?

      >They certainly value personal liberty in all aspects of modern technology, but putting people's rights above corporate and government policy is hardly the reserve of the left.

      It's not the reserve of the left or the right at this point.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2017 @ 10:12am

      Re: Left Leaning?

      Did you hear about the first time an American court ordered a blogger to stop publishing facts about a public figure, from a series of newspaper articles about that figure, because this was considered harassment? Brett Kimberlin the Speedway Bomber was part of the Barack Obama campaign so the EFF refused to give any publicity to the case.

      How about the time someone used the DMCA to take down a news report about a ring of corrupt journalists, investors, and developers in the games industry who may have rigged Indiecade and the Independent Games Festival so the games they invested in would win, and Reddit banned anyone who tried to talk about it? They were all Obama campaign operatives so the EFF helped dox anyone who opposed the DMCA takedown.

      When Wired collected a team of fanatics to advocate for internet censorship, the EFF endorsed them, probably because the EFF director was one of the six invitees.

      The EFF gets publicity by taking a stand on one issue every so often, but they no longer work for the people or for a free Internet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chris, 7 Jun 2017 @ 1:58pm

    Vickery authored the bot and submitted the fraud himself

    Vickery authored the bot and submitted the fraud himself to gain more attention to his recent fame.

    Sad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 2:28pm

    Misdirection?

    Misdirection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    William Braunfeld (profile), 7 Jun 2017 @ 3:08pm

    Jesus Christ, the state of discourse in my country...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 8 Jun 2017 @ 7:14am

      Re:

      Alas, it's the result of concentrated partisan pattycake. The only way to win is not to play and to insist on traditional definitions of "left" and "right."

      The current iterations are cartoonish, to say the least.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 3:46pm

    'In his post, Gillula confirms that EFF’s language was used but makes quite a lot out of his discovery that the EFF messages differ from the fakes in the font of one apostrophe. I must confess that the significance of this is lost on me.'

    Quote by Peter Flaherty declaring he has no business writing about such things then.

    Also:
    "We did not assert that EFF sent the messages or that they came through its website. As quoted above, we stated that the comments “used language from an Electronic Frontier Foundation letter desk campaign,” which Gillula has acknowledged is true"

    Also incorrect, looking at the report itself, it is titled:
    Analysis of 100,148 comments submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and specifically talks about how these comments were submitted through www.dearfcc.org.

    Just wow....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ThaumaTechnician (profile), 7 Jun 2017 @ 6:12pm

      Re:

      And one too-clever thing the NLPC did was to state that More than 465,322 pro-net neutrality comments (close to one quarter of all comments submitted) come from email addresses that have submitted comments multiple times. In some cases, thousands of times.

      See what they did there? Or rather what they didn't do? They didn't say how many or what proportion of all comments were faked anti-net-neutrality comments. I've read figures that more than 95% of the anti-net-neutrality comments were fake.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Jun 2017 @ 6:15am

        Re: Re:

        As if it's impossible for someone who posted a legitimate pro-NN comment could be one who had their info stolen & used by the anti-NN bots.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    My_Name_Here, 7 Jun 2017 @ 5:34pm

    Caught out...

    Here's the thing: No matter how the comments got there, they used the EFF's text and were likely inspired by the EFF.

    While there was a lot of discussion about "bot" comments against Net Neutrality, 100,000 supporting bot comments seem to have gotten almost no coverage, especially not around here. Plenty of coverage of the other comments though.

    I think the EFF is embarrassed to have any connection to it at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2017 @ 3:03am

      Re: Caught out...

      Here's the thing: No matter how the comments got there, they used your nickname and were likely inspired by you...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 6:20pm

    You're mistaken

    You're mistaking a "Dialog" with "Monologue" - you are expecting Adjit Pei to have a conversation or "dialog" about ripping out Net Neutrality. This is not his (nor the PACs that throw tons of money in to elected representatives coffers) interest.

    This isn't a conversation the FCC is going to have. What we get is a monologue. The outcome is pre-ordained. All hail the new King.

    Did you hear me? I said ALL HAIL!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 6:22pm

    Smells like My_Name_Here all over...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 7 Jun 2017 @ 7:27pm

    Interesting..

    WHY not give the FULL email to the EFF, with the full header..
    THEN with all the resources available THAT the gov. says it HAS and CAN USE to track stuff on the net...
    Should be easy..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jun 2017 @ 7:07am

      Re: Interesting..

      WHY not give the FULL email to the EFF, with the full header.. THEN with all the resources available THAT the gov. says it HAS and CAN USE to track stuff on the net... Should be easy..

      They won't because:

      1. It discredits an organization that the current administration doesn't like.

      2. Doing so, undermines their pre-determined outcome of doing away with any threat to corporate profits.

      Remember, they never had any intention of listening to consumers over this. The only reason the comment period was held was because they are required to by law. (A law that I'm sure they want to be rid of, and that this incident will be used as evidence of abuse during the deliberations over it's repeal.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 7:32pm

    FCC Itself?

    I would to be at all surprised to learn that the FCC itself is behind a large number the fake comments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 7:56pm

    "a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming"

    When out_of_the_blue's screen name was being used to make false claims right here on Techdirt, YOU knew about it, yet didn't take the least action to support that person, now did you? As administrators, you and Masnick are required to under common law, as you recognize when it's YOUR rep being abused. -- You aren't even hypocrites, just low-level sociopaths concerned only with "ME", which I call Masnocrites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 8:41pm

      Re: "a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming"

      out_of_the_blue made false claims regardless of which TOR IP address he was posting it from. Just accept that it's no one else's responsibility to protect you from your own idiocy, and move on.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 8:43pm

        Re: Re: "a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming"

        Personally I think it's hilarious the original poster chose to concern troll for a user who hasn't "appeared" for over more than a year. It's almost like he thinks nobody will put two and two together and figure out it's the same idiot forgoing his telltale moniker.

        Too bad for him, he can't resist the same telltale writing style that makes him look like a tool without half a brain cell to rub together...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 10:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: "a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming"

          Pretty much. Anyone who's been keeping track on the Prenda Law articles can quickly identify the troll going on at length about how he hates Prenda Law articles because it makes copyright look bad, and go on from there.

          out_of_the_blue's not only using the same garbage shtick as My_Name_Here/Whatever/Just Sayin'/horse with no name/The Anti-Mike, but doing it far more shittily. Like admitting he uses a TOR IP address, which only pirates would do.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Jun 2017 @ 7:33am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: "a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming"

            It's pretty sad when the Russian trolls are putting more effort in then our homegrown American ones.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Jun 2017 @ 12:32am

      Re: "a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming"

      Wow, you're so far gone, you can't tell the difference between a real name and a made up username.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Chip, 8 Jun 2017 @ 8:13am

      Re: "a post supporting the death of net neutrality made in my name, falsely claiming"

      Yeah! This is my real name and nobody else better use it to make fun of me!

      Every nation Eats the paint chips it Deserves!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wolfie0827 (profile), 7 Jun 2017 @ 9:11pm

    Think Tank

    What would you expect, it came from a "Think Tank". I thought everyone knew that the "Don't" at the beginning implied to all"Think Tanks."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2017 @ 11:23pm

    meh those commie libtards are problably to blame no matter what

    Look what you don't understand is the danger of information both neo's hate information that is why the internet is going to be censered transparently without our knowledge or consent

    pick up that can and get used to it

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 8 Jun 2017 @ 3:51am

    100k comments?

    What about the anti-nn bot flooding the site for half a million comments? It's quite rich to throw rocks at the neighbors ceiling when yours is made of think paper (glass is overrated!). Along with that excellent debunking EFF should have asked the idiots behind the report about that simple and verifiable fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jun 2017 @ 9:10am

    Donate to EFF.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Pamelahaley (profile), 12 Jun 2017 @ 3:25pm

    Title II "diminished broadband investment, stifled innovation, and left American consumers potentially on the hook for a new broadband tax"

    Funny Story. My Right Wing Legislator Barry Loudermilk, sent me an e-mail containing that exact phrase.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Most of the people are still looking for the online card game,For those i like to suggest this one of the top most web link https://heartsgameonline.net that is free and online and multiplayer game.This hearts game will excite your every moments.

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