In the past, we've covered attempts by big broadband to astroturf
their way into the debate on net neutrality, and it just comes off as so obviously fake
that it appears rather pitiful. The latest attempt may be even worse. While consumer advocacy groups have been able to do a great job getting people to speak up and raise their concerns about keeping the internet open, often appealing to younger folks who have always grown up with the internet, it appears that the big broadband lobbyists are now trying to fake their way into getting the same folks on their side -- and it comes off about as well as when your dad tries to act like a teenager, using new slang and trying to dress accordingly, but just making a total fool of himself. ProPublica has the details of a new effort by NCTA
, the big broadband lobbying trade group run by former FCC chair Michael Powell (who is a big part of the reason we're in this mess today), called "Onward Internet." (ProPublica calls it a telco lobbying group, but NCTA is much more about cable interests).
Onward Internet has been setting up public "suggestion boxes" for the internet, complete with people idiotically dressed in "futuristic" costumes (because, you know how much millenials love
Jetsons-like futuristic costumes):
But, of course, nowhere do they actually admit who's behind the campaign. Instead, they just use a bunch of internet "lingo" that they think makes themselves sound young and cool.
The boxes, sometimes accompanied by young people in futuristic costumes, have been popping up on both coasts for weeks, soliciting messages of support - but their sponsor has been a mystery. The web site for the campaign, Onward Internet, does not say. Their domain registration is private. And the site includes no contact information, only an animated video heavy on millennial lingo: "The internet was made to move data...we got blogs, likes, selfies and memes, OMG, BRB and TTYL."
No one from Onward Internet or the "production agency" (which already suggests astroturfing) behind it would admit to who was involved, but ProPublica tracked it down anyway, by asking the company that rented the space for one of those nutty installations, who came right out and admitted that it was NCTA. Amusingly, when confronted about it, NCTA tried to sidestep the question:
NCTA officials did not respond to questions about Onward Internet and would not confirm they're behind it. "What led you to the conclusion that this is an NCTA effort...?" asked Brian Dietz, a vice president for the organization, before he stopped responding to emails.
And, again, the deeper you dive into the Onward Internet effort, the more awkward and gag-inducing it becomes:
"Sorry we can't come to the phone right now," the call-in greeting says. "We just got wind of the juiciest celebrity rumor and we're working to confirm it. So please leave your suggestion for the future of the internet at the beep and visit Onward Internet dot com next month to see what we've done with it."
No joke. That's really the message you get when you call. Again, it sounds like big powerful cable execs trying to think what a teenager might actually say.
The effort's Twitter feed
is chock full of these awkward attempts at sounding young and cool. It apparently sprang up on September 3rd, a couple of weeks before the FCC's comment period closed... and almost no one noticed, despite it pretending to "represent the internet." After a silly "test" post, it claimed to be "the Internet's official Twitter account" (and the only responses were people calling it out for being astroturfing). And then, here's its attempt at being a regular Twitter account.
I love that the awkward request for a retweet got... a single retweet. And it, too, got a response from someone asking "Who do you actually work for? Who signs your checks?" The one retweet came from a guy named Christopher Perry
who (yes, you guessed it) runs an ad agency that notes he was the "art director"
for Onward Internet. Here's a tip: when the only person retweeting your lame, wannabe, pleading attempts to get retweeted by young people is... the guy who created the campaign in the first place, you've failed. Big time.
After a couple of days, the Twitter feed shifts to pushing that insanely lame video, calling it "the #MOST #AMAZING #VIDEO about the Internet #EVER!" because, don't you know, the kids these days, they loves them some hashtags. They keep posting the video with new attempts to sound cool each time. "Check out this sweet video." "People, this is important!" The whole thing is ridiculous and delusional. As mentioned by ProPublica, the video itself is... terrible. It just keeps repeating slang and trying
to sound ironic.
It repeatedly references lolcats (because that's what kids like, right?) and even has a discussion on how to pronounce "Gif." It's just trying way too hard. And the results seem to match. It doesn't appear like it got very much engagement at all, and from the looks of it, the NCTA spent a fair amount on it, despite Dietz's half-hearted attempt at denying its participation.
Eventually, once the ProPublica story was published, he finally provided a statement, claiming that they kept NCTA's name off of it because they wanted "unbiased feedback." Uh huh.
"We know that network neutrality is important to Internet users and we share the vision that the Internet remains an open and unfettered experience for all to enjoy," he said in his statement. "We've kept NCTA's brand off Onward, Internet because we want to collect unbiased feedback directly from individuals about what they want for the future of the Internet and how it can become even better than it is today. The cable industry is proud of our role as a leading Internet provider in the U.S. but we feel it's important to hear directly from consumers about how they envision the future so we can work hard on delivering it."
By lying to them and trying to pretend to be cool and young and to actually get the internet, when it's so painfully obvious that they don't. Besides, no one believes that. We've all seen how these astroturfing efforts work, and the focus is on getting these people to sign up to later pretend
that they support your vision of cable dominance over the internet.