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.

Filed Under: ajit pai, christie-lee mcnally, comments, fake comments, fcc, identity fraud, net neutrality, open comments, trump campaign
Companies: free our internet, raven strategies


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 1 Feb 2019 @ 9:51am

    Sounds familar

    "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

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

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 9:53am

    Amazed

    There you go again Mike, shilling for a free and open internet free of corporate interference.
    Net Neutrality hurts corporations who want to provide their services to us. Stop being so mean to them!!

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 10:10am

      Re: Amazed

      It's Karl, not me. It truly is incredible what a shill he is for Big Free & Open Internet. I really need to stop him from doing that, but I can't because stupid net neutrality won't let me.

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

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 11:02am

        Re: Re: Amazed -- by the way, WHO has links to GOOGLE?

        https://copia.is/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sponsors.png

        By which we can gauge the in-your-face-ness of your remark. -- Oh, I suppose that it's possible you're so convinced of your own immaculate stainless and above-reproach, if not above the law self, that obvious linkage simply doesn't occur to you. Certainly you leave it out in EVERY piece about GOOGLE where its "sponsoring" you is relevant.

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

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 11:07am

          You know, but it’s a funny thing: You can link Google to Copia — but have you ever directly linked Google to anything published by Techdirt without having to go through the Copia link first? Because unless you can prove that Copia is directly responsible for any seemingly positive article about Google being published on Techdirt, that link is bullshit, and you have yet to provide a more direct link between Google and Techdirt.

          Also y u still here bruh

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 2:43pm

          Re: Re: Re: Amazed -- by the way, WHO has links to GOOGLE?

          Donny’s still not gonna touch it.

          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, 1 Feb 2019 @ 9:55am

    Lets see if someone spit in the ocean 1000 years in the past it is completely obvious that it was Trump or someone in his organization engaged in biological warfare.

    CNN Breaking News: The far left discoverers that all crime that has been committed since the beginning of time is causes by Trump.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Professor Swackenhauer, 1 Feb 2019 @ 10:26am

    Your game is to attack one "side" of politics. Here's similar:

    FIRST, there's NO substance to above, just "linked". Facebook for example is directly linked to some "right wing" PR firm that attacked Soros.

    It's trivial to attack your way (while pretending that you aren't directly stating hidden conspiracy, you kook), so I pulled up some LINKS that go against the "other" side:

    Christine Ford's (the allegator against Kavanaugh) has connections to GOOGLE through renting house: "It - it now is a place to host Google interns. Because we live near Google, so we get to have - other students can live there." https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-10-02/more-holes-appear-records-raise-questions-abo ut-fords-double-door-story

    Ocasio-Cortez Accidentally Announces Soros-Activist Who Confronted Flake in Elevator is ILLEGAL ALIEN

    "Ana Maria Archila is from our district, is from Queens," Ocasio-Cortez, prompting a round of applause. "In fact, she is an immigration activist, which just goes to show intersectionality and how interwoven all of these fights are. Because she is putting everything on the line and risking deportation" https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2018/10/oops-ocasio-cortez-accidentally-announces -soros-activist-who-confronted-flake-in-elevator-is-illegal-alien-video/

    Tucker Carlson obtains internal emails from Google/YouTube proving that they alter search results for political reasons

    Previously on this show we've told you how employees at Google discussed altering search results to undermine the White House's immigration policies. At the time Google said it has never changed search results for political reasons, and it never will. We knew it was untrue then, now we can prove that it is untrue. This show has obtained internal Google emails in which an employee discusses editing YouTube search results to suppress videos based on their political content.

    Google says their efforts are not political, and meant to fight conspiracy theories, though, for the record, we have never endorsed any kind of conspiracy theory on this show, and never would.

    By the way, how does Google define a "conspiracy theory"? They haven't told us that either. Or why a superpower global monopoly ought to be making that decision in the first place, since they have a congressional exemption in which they promised not to. They promised to be a conduit through which information flows, and not a news site that edits it.

    http://www.investmentwatchblog.com/tucker-obtains-internal-emails-from-google-youtube-proving-t hat-they-alter-search-results-for-political-reasons/

    Or, transcript it yourself from: https://www.youtube.com/embed/P8cAfT7q-iE

    [By the way, in last GOOGLE states exactly my view that to even exist, corporations promise to serve The Public's good, and promise to be FAIR in order to get immunity.]

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 10:27am

    Lying about climate science must not be paying enough for the former tobacco shills so they had to diversify a bit further.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 11:02am

    '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'

    in reality, what has happened is that another section of 'competition' is about to be excluded when yet another telecom merger happens, making it ever more difficult for the public to actually get a real deal on broadband and/or mobile contracts. and all this is because of the gutless attitudes of those in Congress, who are more concerned with 'pocket lining' than doing their damned jobs!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 7:22am

      Re:

      The USA will have ISP level problems for as long as they think that the solution is competition in providing the Infrastructure. Most of the rest of the world have settled on regulating the infrastructure as a monopoly service, like water gas, electricity and sewage, and enabling competition at the ISP and above level over a common infrastructure.

      The UK example, which i am familiar with, has Openreach owning and managing the cables and fibres in the ground and on the poles, and common exchange building in which the lines and fibres from end users are connected to the ISP and Phone companies switches and routers. That way, despite being in a rural area, I have a choice of ISP's for my Internet service, and can switch without having to change the wire tat connects me to the exchange, and my connection is unlimited, without any small print qualifications that would make it limited.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 11:14am

    Who did what?

    Russians did it.. China did it.. Isis did it.. Obama Did it.. Clinton did it.. Im feeling like im surrounded by 2 year olds..

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 11:24am

    Hmm...

    • ISPs pay GOP to oppose NN
    • Right wing echo chamber spins wild FUD about NN to feed their base
    • Trump campain sells right-wing polling information to Russians
    • Russias troll factories, focusing on driving wedges into divisive US issues, suddenly takes an interest in filing fake NN comments...

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 11:32am

    Does Ajit Pai get one of those disney endings?

    Like maybe dropped into a deep ravine, lanced on a bowsprit or torn apart by hyenas?

    Because man, it seems like we're finding a lot more malicious intent than stupidity or ignorance.

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

  • icon
    Zof (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 1:34pm

    Death Of Consumer Linked To Trump

    A consumer at a trump linked hotdog stand died today when a poorly chewed mass of hotdog lodged in his throat. Trump had one of his people buy one of these hotdogs seven years ago (underlining used to imitate website link to fake legitimacy). The epidemic of Trump related business causing misfortune shows no sign of ending (more dramatic underlining instead of facts or real links!).

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

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 1 Feb 2019 @ 1:42pm

      Re:

      Death Of Thinking Linked To Trump

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 2:09pm

      Re:

      20 people or so in the Trump org have been indicted or arrested - I'm sure that doesn't reflect poorly on the Cheeto, eh?

      The fact that a massive fraud occurred in the FCC comments has been covered with great interest at TD. Seems pretty relevant to report on who may have been responsible to it. And to report who they had ties to.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 2:48pm

      Re:

      So what you’re saying in Trump fans are so stupid they regularly choke on hot dogs? Sounds about right. It at least makes more sense than that word salad you just vomited up.

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

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 5:57pm

    "ouroborus"?

    Are you channeling William F. Buckley? The word fits well. Those (like me) who never met it before might want to look it up in Wikipedia.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 9:07am

    Ajit Pai

    Idjit pai 's a lawyer, right? Can't he be disbarred for ethics or, rather, the lack of ethics? And I would so love seeing indicted by Mueller

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

  • identicon
    Philly Bob, 3 Feb 2019 @ 12:28am

    But does Pai care? Hell no! Unless he's jailed (and even if he is) he'll still come out with a 7 or 8 figure job with the ISPs. No matter what happens to him... he wins. He did what he was was paid to do. Gotta love the revolving doors or government.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 5 Feb 2019 @ 9:33am

      Re:

      Jailed for what?

      I keep seeing people suggest Pai could be charged with something, but I've never actually seen anyone say what.

      While I wouldn't be surprised to find out Pai's engaged in some sort of criminal activity, I haven't seen any evidence that he has. Working on behalf of your former employers in your capacity as a regulator, and then going back to work for them once you leave office, is legal. It shouldn't be, but it is.

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

  • icon
    dorkyderner (profile), 3 Feb 2019 @ 12:28pm

    Ajit Pai

    I thinks trumps hand in the FCC and Ajit Pai has been disasterous!Very much disagree!But many other things i fully support trump.Its thinking freely and theres so many people who hate him so much even if he cured cancer they would hate it cuz hed get credit for it

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 4 Feb 2019 @ 4:58pm

    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.

    Why should they be nervous? Nothing is going to happen to any of them. They'll claim that they were hacked, or that it was a single rogue employee, there will be a lot of finger pointing, they'll agree to pay a fine and that will be the end of it.

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


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