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By Eric Lieberman and Ted Goodman
Hundreds of thousands of potentially fake posts supporting a government takeover of the internet’s most essential infrastructure bombarded a Federal Communications Commission’s forum for public comments on net neutrality in the past month.
The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF) pulled a random sample of nearly 10,000 “pro-net neutrality” comments and called the people who provided input to verify their authenticity.
Of the respondents, 44 percent answered “yes” when asked if they could recall submitting a public comment supporting the regulations imposed by the FCC under the Obama administration. In contrast, 39 percent denied having submitted a comment, or were unable to recall doing so. Around 17 percent refused to answer the question, or hung up before proper communication.
The FCC has received more than 1.6 million comments as of Wednesday morning, according to the agency’s own website. If “pro regulatory” comments represent one half of that amount, then math indicates that more than 300,000 of the “pro-net neutrality” comments could have been falsely submitted.
Fake “anti-net neutrality” comments also made their way on the forum as more than 128,000 identical posts under different names were discovered, according to ZDNet. Like TheDCNF, ZDNet contacted the listed people, who later told the tech publication that they had not published messages on the FCC’s website. ZDNet, though, reportedly called around “two-dozen people” and only directly spoke to a handful of them.
TheDCNF’s data shows that despite what many people think, there was not an outpouring of backlash (or at least not nearly as much as originally reported) against FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to undo net neutrality rules implemented in recent years.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers have no right to discriminate against certain forms of traffic (like spam), nor to offer faster speeds to higher paying customers. For supporters, it means all kinds of traffic gets equal treatment. For critics, net neutrality is a government takeover that will prevent companies from investing in faster infrastructure.
“This regulation by the FCC is a textbook example of Washington’s desire to regulate anything and everything, and will do nothing more than wrap the Internet in red tape,” Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said in April of 2015, according to The Atlantic, somewhat around the time the new net neutrality rules came into effect. “The internet has successfully flourished without the heavy hand of government interference. Stated simply, I do not want to see the government regulating the internet.”
The rule enabling net neutrality, Title II, was first designed in the 1930s to help regulate a powerful monopoly. The FCC successfully reclassified the internet from a Title I service to a Title II in the last couple of years while under Democratic control, which essentially gave it the authority to mandate and enforce net neutrality rules. (RELATED: FCC Chair: ‘Hysterical Prophecies’ Led Dems To Almost Break The Internet In Just Two Years)
Proponents of net neutrality say the internet should be classified as a Title II regulation, essentially rendering it a public utility under the purview of the federal government. They also claim that the volume of comments supporting such a classification vastly outweighs the remarks against such a classification, the latter of which Pai is championing.
TheDCNF’s own analysis reveals that a large portion of those comments were likely phony.
Comedian John Oliver sparked extra interest in the technical topic after lambasting the FCC and its plan to unravel internet regulations on his weekly show May 7. He registered the website “gofccyourself.com” to make it easier for people to share their insight.
Oliver’s campaign to discredit Pai and his transparent process for public input unleashed a deluge of bogus complaints from bot accounts. Racist comments and death threats even found their way on what was supposed to be a productive and democratic platform.
Oliver implored his viewers to stop making derogatory comments in an online video published Sunday.
“There were some racist comments on there,” Oliver conceded. “And let me just say, if any of those came from anyone who watches this show, stop it. Do not fucking do that. Writing racist things on the internet is not how you win the net neutrality debate. It’s how you win the presidency,” he continued, as a screenshot of President Donald Trump’s Cinco De May taco bowl tweet appeared above his right shoulder.
Some of the acrimonious remarks aren’t very surprising since several net neutrality activists are associated with groups that are connected with violence. One activist leader, Evan Greer, for example, worked three years to free an al-Qaida terrorist convicted of planning to shoot up a Boston shopping mall, according to his LinkedIn profile. (RELATED: FCC Chair: Regulating The Internet Is Similar To Censoring College Speakers)
Knowing that around 39 percent of the 10,000 respondents of TheDCNF’s calls said they couldn’t remember making a comment helps corroborate the FCC’s official announcement that criticisms were artificially sent through automation.
The FCC originally stated that a large portion of the comments, as well as the vitriolic content, was delivered through a DDoS (distributed-denial-of-service) attack. A DDoS assault is when a perpetrator directs several internet-connected devices and the respective unique Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (the numerical label assigned to every device) to targeted online systems, which inundates them. (Imagine a tsunami, rather than the typical waves, hitting a beachfront).
“These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host,” reads the FCC’s official press release, published May 8. “These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC.”
Due to the latest exclusive data made available to TheDCNF, it’s clear that so many of these comments were not authentic, and were artificially manufactured to fake dissidence against Pai’s policies to deregulate the internet industry.