from the the-best-fake-arguments-money-can-buy dept
This week New York Attorney General Leticia James unveiled a new report (also see accompanying statement) proving what most people already knew: the broadband industry was behind the use of fake and dead people to generate bogus support for the FCC’s controversial 2017 repeal of net neutrality.
The short version: the AG found the broadband industry used a non-profit lobbying organization, Broadband For America, to pay three different marketing firms about $4.2 million to generate artificial support for a plan that was opposed by a bipartisan majority of Americans. That artificial support included flooding the FCC comment system with millions of comments from fake and even dead people supporting the effective lobotomization of the FCC.
According to the NY AG, the firms lured consumers in with promises of sweepstakes prizes and gift cards in exchange for providing their personal information, which was then used without their consent to flood the FCC with fake support for its unpopular proposal:
“Instead of actually looking for real responses from the American people, marketing companies are luring vulnerable individuals to their websites with freebies, co-opting their identities, and fabricating responses that giant corporations are then using to influence the polices and laws that govern our lives. But, today, we are taking action to root out this fraud and the impersonation that has been corrupting the process for far too long. From net neutrality rules to laws affecting criminal justice reform, health care, and more, these fake comments have simply been generated to influence too many government policies, which is why we are cracking down on this illegal and deceptive behavior. My office will continue to shine a spotlight on abuses and disinformation and ensure those who break the law are held accountable.”
While the three companies involved in this effort will face penalties of up to $4 million, the NY AG isn’t yet punishing (or even naming) the giant broadband providers that actively funded and supported the effort behind the scenes. The NY AG also didn’t even mention several of the K-Street lobbying/PR firms already tied to these fake comments by public records and previous reporting. Whether this is because the NY AG is pulling its punches…or is still engaged in ongoing investigations…isn’t yet clear and they didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment.
All told, the AG’s office found that roughly 18 million of the more than 22 million comments the FCC received during the agency’s public comment period were fake. About 8.5 million of those comments were sent by people who simply didn?t exist, and many others used hijacked identities including my own and even several Senators.
It’s worth repeating that the Trump FCC 2017 repeal of net neutrality didn’t just “kill net neutrality rules.” It actively hamstrung the FCC’s consumer protection authority, and even attempted to ban states from being able to fill the consumer protection void. In short, telecom giants AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Charter convinced the FCC to effectively lobotomize itself. But because the public overwhelmingly opposed that policy proposal, they used marketing firms to create a sound wall of entirely artificial support. You know your arguments are sound when you have to use fake and dead people to make them for you.
It’s also worth reminding folks that former FCC boss Ajit Pai actively blocked law enforcement inquiries into who was behind the fake comments, according to NY’s previous AG. So not only did Pai repeatedly parrot fake data points provided by industry to support his unpopular repeal, he made sure that law enforcement couldn’t adequately investigate the use of fake and dead people to provide illusory support for the plan. Anybody who still thinks that the repeal was a good faith effort to improve the industry, aid consumers, or boost investment is living in an alternate reality of their own creation.
As we’ve noted previously this is a problem that isn’t just limited to the FCC and net neutrality. Numerous policy efforts, across numerous agencies, have been subject to similar disinformation campaigns aimed at generating fake opposition to policies that attempt to rein in US corporations. In fact the AG’s office found that these same three firms had been used in 100 such campaigns across numerous policy proposals. And while the marketing companies are facing a little heat, it’s extremely rare to see the companies behind the efforts held accountable in any meaningful way.