During the public advisory period on its plans to gut net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission received around 23 million comments from concerned citizens, trolls, and apparently a bunch of bots. The FCC has already dismissed the volume of comments as being mostly irrelevant, but new analysis of the comments has shown for the first time that the entire system is worthless.
The Pew Research Center published its report into the public comments today, and the results make for unpleasant reading. The center found that over half of comments came from temporary or fake email addresses — including nearly half a million Russian accounts — and only a tiny percentage of comments were actually unique.
According to Pew, 57 percent of comments used temporary email addresses, or addresses linked to other comments. On over 100 occasions, 25,000 (or more) comments were submitted at exactly the same time. The biggest mass submission included 475,000 comments. That’s strong evidence of a coordinated bot campaign to tamper with the public input process:
Other research has suggested that some share of the FCC comments may have been submitted in bulk using automated processes, such as organized bot campaigns. The Center’s analysis finds support for this argument, based on the fact that many comments were submitted at precisely the same instant. The FCC assigned a precise timestamp to each comment as it was submitted, and an analysis of those timestamps shows that on numerous occasions, thousands of posts were submitted at exactly the same time – a sign that these submissions were likely automated.
Pew’s research can show that some kind of tampering was going on; what it can’t show is who was responsible. But the end result is nearly perfect for Ajit Pai and the anti-net-neutrality lobby. Last time net neutrality was up for debate at the FCC, 450,000 comments were submitted to the commission, the majority of those pro-net-neutrality. Thanks to the anonymous tampering, the entire comment system can be discredited this time around.