The Federal Communications Commission reopened an old battle when it voted to revisit its 2015 net neutrality rules earlier this month. The move – and attention paid to it by “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver – sparked an outpouring of public opinion. The result has been a flooding of the Commission’s comment filing system and claims of fraudulent input from both sides of the fence. So, how should we – or more importantly, the FCC – approach the net neutrality comments we find there?
Allegations of meddling started almost immediately after the Oliver segment, when the comment filing system was overwhelmed by what the FCC said was a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future was one of the first to raise questions about the timing of the attack, suggesting the Commission was “intentionally misleading” the public and asking the FCC to release its logs for an independent analysis.
Since then millions of comments have been successfully filed on the proceeding – but it seems some of those may not be legitimate.
As pointed out by The Verge earlier this month, nearly 58,000 anti-net neutrality comments utilized identical phrasing calling for the rollback of “unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet.” The number of those repeat filings hit more than 443,000 by Wednesday afternoon. Many of those comments also appear to have been filed using the names and personal information of people claiming never to have submitted input on the matter. Earlier this month, 25 of those individuals sent a letter to the FCC asking the Commission to remove all fraudulent comments and notify others who may have been impacted.
Similar accusations about bogus comments from net neutrality supporters surfaced this week with a report from the right-leaning National Legal and Policy Center. That group said an analysis of the 2.5 million net neutrality comments found nearly 20 percent (or more than 465,000) pro-net neutrality comments appeared fraudulent, and more than 100,000 examples of identical comments were found.
“The full breadth of the fake comments at this point is not known,” NLPC President Peter Flaherty said in a statement. “But based on an initial forensic analysis, we believe it is massive.”
So what’s real and what’s fake? Can we just discount the duplicates?
It’s a tough question and one the FCC will have to consider carefully. Duplicate comments can’t be dismissed outright – after all, how many times have you received a call to action that asks you to just fill in the blanks on a prepared statement and send to your local government official? That’s no different just because it’s the internet.
But looking ahead, it might behoove the FCC to come up with some sort of process for authenticating the identity of commenters – perhaps via email or text verification – before it accepts their input for review. Otherwise, it might end up with another mess on its hands and even less public trust.
Filed Under: Industry regulations