AT&T Is Astroturfing The FCC In Support Of Trump's Dumb Attack On Social Media

from the fake-support-for-dumb-ideas dept

We've noted for a long time that telecom giants like Comcast and AT&T have been pushing (quite successfully) for massive deregulation of their own monopolies, while pushing for significant new regulation of the Silicon Valley giants whose ad revenues they've coveted for decades. As such, it wasn't surprising to see AT&T come out with a incredibly dumb blog post this week supporting Trump's legally dubious and hugely problematic executive order targeting social media giants. You know, the plan that not only isn't enforceable by the agencies supposedly tasked with enforcing it (the FCC), but that also risks creating a massive new censorship paradigm across the entire internet.

As Mike already noted, AT&T's post was a pile of bad faith nonsense, weirdly conflating net neutrality with the ham-fisted attack on Section 230. AT&T just got done deriding the FCC's relatively modest net neutrality rules as "government interference in the internet run amok." Yet here it is, advocating for a terrible plan that attempts to shovel the FCC into the role of regulating speech on social media, authority it simply doesn't have. For those that tracked the net neutrality fight, the intellectual calisthenics required here by folks like AT&T and its favorite FCC officials have been stunning, even for Trumpland:

By "momentum," Carr clearly means "intellectually-flimsy support by lobbyists employed by a telecom monopoly."

Folks like FCC boss Ajit Pai know damn well Trump's order is laughable and legally dubious, going against nearly every principle they spent the last decade claiming to stand for. But they're going through the motions anyway to avoid upsetting dear leader and derailing any future political prospects. As a result, the FCC is burning resources holding a public comment period on Trump's EO and the (equally laughable) petition from the NTIA.

Numerous folks have submitted their comments on the record (you can read Mike's here). That includes AT&T, which is apparently not only busy making intellectually inconsistent arguments, but is providing form letters to other organizations to try and get them to support Trump's crappy EO. Some folks digging through the comments noticed that a lot of these groups are submitting AT&T's form letters to the FCC... without bothering to proof read them first:

It is surely only a coincidence that several groups with links to AT&T all submitted the same exact letter:

This is a greasy lobbying tactic companies like AT&T have employed for years. In fact, we wrote a piece just about a decade ago busting AT&T for the exact same behavior. AT&T can routinely be found giving money to groups in exchange for support for problematic to downright terrible policies, be it be support for AT&T's latest merger, or the culling of any meaningful oversight of telecom monopolies. Often this includes the "co-opting" of even civil rights or consumer groups. Other times, it involves the creation of entirely bogus "consumer rights" or advocacy groups.

The goal is always the same: to create the illusion of broad support for what's almost always terrible tech policy that aids AT&T in some way.

This sort of "astroturfing" (fake grass roots) has been a problem nobody wants to fix. This being the Trump FCC, you shouldn't expect them to police this kind of gamesmanship with any sort of integrity. You'll recall that the FCC not only turned a blind eye as the telecom sector used dead, fake, or hijacked personalities to spam the FCC during the net neutrality repeal, it actively blocked law enforcement inquiries into who was behind them.

This corporate co-opting of what's often the only chance the public has to express their thought on the record plagues numerous agencies, not just the FCC. And given AT&T's still busy doing this sort of thing nearly a decade after being busted for the exact same thing, you can clearly see how important protecting the integrity of public policy discourse is for U.S. leaders. Granted if your arguments are sound on their merits (which the Trump EO most certainly isn't), you wouldn't need to generate fake support from dead people or co-opted organizations in the first place.

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Filed Under: ajit pai, astroturf, brendan carr, comment, fake comments, fcc, ntia, section 230
Companies: at&t


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 7:15am

    Not sleazy...

    Calling ATT sleazy would be an insult to genuine sleazyly organizations.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 7:49am

    So the question is...

    Does the FCC ignore ALL of the comments, or only the ones it doesn't want to agree with?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 8:08am

    AT&T will do whatever it thinks will be of advantage to it, either now or in the future! considering how it lobbied very heavily against net neutrality yet still manages, when it suits, to condone what it does, is anyone surprised?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 8:46am

    Telling tactics

    If the only way you can get people to support you/your position is to pay them to do so, it's pretty obvious that even you realize that people wouldn't do so on their own.

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

  • icon
    BurningWoodchipper (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 9:14am

    copypasta

    Copypasta isn't at all unusual with even legitimate grassroots efforts. Work with any group that has anything more than a handful of volunteers, and you'll see a large number of supporters who really do care, just not enough to paraphrase the suggested language and personalize the message.

    Ask any legislator how many duplicate emails they get any time any advocacy group puts out a "call to action," from the NRA to the Sierra Club to a local home-schooling group.

    Doesn't mean AT&T isn't slimy. Doesn't mean the FCC's "Public Comment" system isn't defective. But it does mean that maybe some of these groups are willing to support AT&T, because mutual support is mutual.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 9:44am

      Re: copypasta

      The only thing 'mutual' in this support is the greed...

      Yes, Massa, I'll say whatever massa want me to say, can I has another cookie?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 9:52am

        Re: Re: copypasta

        It's not even greed.

        Usually, AT&T is providing these orgs with discounted services. AT&T then approaches people at these groups, with whom they already have a trusting relationship, and says "hey -- there's some new legislation proposed that might impact your operations by making it more difficult for us to provide you with the services you're using. Can you sign and submit this document to ensure that doesn't happen?"

        The people then sign and send, often without even carefully reading the document.

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

        • icon
          CypherDragon (profile), 11 Sep 2020 @ 2:11am

          Re: Re: Re: copypasta

          often without even reading the document.

          FTFY. They don't bother to read it at all most of the time. Just like legislators using the direct copy from whatever lobbying group paid them to sponsor their bill.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:20pm

      Re: copypasta

      Well yeah, but that is generally on an individual basis, and not the sort of support a legit organization should be doing.

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

  • icon
    ilgeo (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 11:00am

    Carr

    I see that Carr is trying to avoid getting canned by staying on Trump’s good side. Unlike FCC commissioner O’Reilly, who just got the boot.

    I would like to see the legal gymnastics the FCC would have to present in order to argue that it simultaneously lacks the authority to implement net neutrality but it does have the authority to establish rules defining the scope of immunity in the communications decency act. It’s also a bedrock principal that the judiciary interprets the meaning of statutory provisions, and not the executive branch.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 11:06am

      Re: Carr

      It’s also a bedrock principal that the judiciary interprets the meaning of statutory provisions, and not the executive branch.

      I guess you haven't been paying attention the last 3.5 years. Or you just left out that the executive simply ignores statutory provisions and every other form of law and does whatever the hell it wants.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 12:39pm

    I laugh in their general direction.

    Lets see. Why are they not Doing this the capitalist way??
    Create Their own, take over the market and Then charge everyone for it.
    They could create their own market place And grab All the better China manufactures. Sell direct, with pre packaged, pre label products, that all thats needed, is to stuff them in the mail or Fed-EX, and 2/3 of the work is done In China.
    Undercut everyone in the market. Direct from MSI, Direct from AMD, Direct from Everywhere.
    Take over the distribution markets setup in the USA.
    But no. They are only bill collectors, and want money NOW. Then Why did they Buy out 2 other corps for So much money, trim the employees, cut back on services and raise prices(normal business practice), to set themselves in debt, IF they really had no idea of HOW those business's worked?
    ATT could create a second company to do all the work, and not worry to much about it, but they have to have a finger in it, and make PROFIT, every second.
    I would take hte CEO job at 1/3 the wage, QUIT in 1 year, and live happy for the rest of my life, my kids lives(I dont have any), My Whole families lives(relatives, gotta love them). Maybe even buy out a few SMALL towns for the wages I would earn in 1 year.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 4:22pm

    "We need rules against fake and malicious comments on the intarnets", says fake, malicious form letter attempting to influence policy and public opinion.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2020 @ 6:17pm

    Huh. I was wondering why Richard Bennett hasn't been coming up for oxygen...

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    restless94110 (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 6:46pm

    Cancer

    Since social media has turned into totalitarian cancer against key American values, how is it dumb to attack them?

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Sep 2020 @ 11:27pm

      Re: Cancer

      You're astoundingly dumb if you think that section 230 is the problem.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Sep 2020 @ 2:46am

      Re: Cancer

      Social media reflects the majority view, and if that is not your view ask yourself why.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 5:46am

        Re: Re: Cancer

        "Social media reflects the majority view"

        Really? No. The biggest problem with social media is that it makes people think they share a majority view, but since all the people they share those views with are a self-selected group of people they end up believing that their group's beliefs translate to the wider world where they are not the majority.

        I don't agree with the "cancer" label, but it's equally wrong to believe that the people you personally chose to follow on Twitter represent a plurality of opinions.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 4 Sep 2020 @ 11:53am

    Trump!

    You should be so thankful for Trump the dems get in and our economy will tank along with you too!!

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 Sep 2020 @ 11:09pm

      Re: Trump!

      It's hard to tell who's serious and who's not any more, but I do get a kick out of the type of fearmongering that says "if you vote D, they will do the exact thing Republicans are actually doing right now, so vote for the guy currently doing it!"

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

  • identicon
    Conservative = freedom, 5 Sep 2020 @ 1:33am

    Wowzers.. WTF is the point of the article? The fact is, these social tech giants that have created a place where almost anyone has a platform, except those that they don't agree with politically. Then they de-monitize you or boot you off entirely. We have freedom of speech, just not on social media. It's been proven google hides mid-to-far right conservative websites from search results. They don't do the same for the far-left sites! Unless you physically type in site:blah.com searchstring here, that site will most likely not be on your results due to them hiding it. I'm sorry, but if we live in a free society, we should not care about opposing viewpoints to the point we're so closed minded no one listens to the other anymore. The parents of my god son were told they couldn't be in the room with their kid while they are in their zoom lessons nor could they tape said class. When they did sit in and heard their kid being indoctrinated and brain washed into believing something their family did not believe in, it leads us into the communist arena that we fought so hard against in the cold war. I'm sorry, but that is not what the country was founded on or what this country should represent. What's net, kids turning in their parents for breaking socialist / communist rules ? feel free to flag this post as I know it will.. I have it copied, pasted, and on my personal blogs.

    ~Conservative Freedom Society

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Sep 2020 @ 8:45am

      Re:

      Conservative: I have been censored for my conservative views
      Me: Holy shit! You were censored for wanting lower taxes?
      Con: LOL no…no not those views
      Me: So…deregulation?
      Con: Haha no not those views either
      Me: Which views, exactly?
      Con: Oh, you know the ones

      (All credit to Twitter user @ndrew_lawrence.)

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 6 Sep 2020 @ 12:34am

      Re:

      "The fact is, these social tech giants that have created a place where almost anyone has a platform, except those that they don't agree with politically"

      So? Nobody can or should force them to host people they don't want on their premises, same as it works in the physical world.

      "I'm sorry, but if we live in a free society, we should not"

      ... getting the government to mandate that companies act in a certain way just because someone disagrees with their political views - and, yes, blocking whiny children such as yourselves is an expression of the platform's right to free association.

      " The parents of my god son were told they couldn't be in the room with their kid while they are in their zoom lessons nor could they tape said class"

      They also presumably can't sit in on physical classes while filming them. Were you whining about that too? No, of course you weren't.

      "When they did sit in and heard their kid being indoctrinated and brain washed into believing something their family did not believe in"

      Let me guess - they dared teach actual historical and scientific facts rather than whatever the parents' favoured fiction outlet was spinning?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Sep 2020 @ 6:22pm

      Re:

      Wasn't Parler supposed to be your own private platform where nobody disagrees with you? Wasn't it supposed to solve all your problems?

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 7 Sep 2020 @ 11:09pm

        Re: Re:

        "Wasn't Parler supposed to be your own private platform where nobody disagrees with you?"

        Close, it was meant to be a place where they weren't to face consequences for their speech, but it seems that even Parler have had to enforce some standards.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 9:03am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That was part of it, but the real sticking point and what made it a 'failure' is that to the surprise of no-one a site that advertised itself as a haven for the assholes that kept getting kicked off the more civilized social media sites isn't one that most people wanted to visit, which meant they were basically just slinging shit between themselves rather than having a captive audience to throw it at like they want.

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

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 8 Sep 2020 @ 9:01am

      Re:

      [Asserts facts not in evidence]

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


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