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Anti-net-neutrality bots are spamming the FCC with bogus comments

According to reports published by The Verge and ZDNet, identical anti-net-neutrality comments are being spammed to the Federal Communications Commission, using the names and addresses of real individuals. The identical comment has been posted tens of thousands of times in the last week, and the people who supposedly posted the comment have all said they had no idea where it came from.

The comment reads:

The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation. I urge the Federal Communications Commission to end the bureaucratic regulatory overreach of the internet known as Title II and restore the bipartisan light-touch regulatory consensus that enabled the internet to flourish for more than 20 years. The plan currently under consideration at the FCC to repeal Obama’s Title II power grab is a positive step forward and will help to promote a truly free and open internet for everyone.

The repeated posting of the same comment isn’t suspicious in and of itself: groups from both sides of the net neutrality argument have previously encouraged concerned citizens to post a “sample” comment to the FCC’s site. But the concerning thing in this case seems to be that the comments are being posted using real names and locations, without the permission of those individuals.

The Verge and ZDNet both reached out to a number of the individuals who supposedly posted the comment; all denied posting it, have no ties to the telecoms industry or lobby, and had “no idea” why their names would be attached to a comment.

The obvious answer is that bots or paid individuals have a list of legitimate names and identities, and are using it to swamp the FCC’s comment system. Even though the tactic has been noticed, it could work strategically. The FCC has been swayed in the past by public feedback on proposals, and the battle over repealing net neutrality rules is shaping up to go the same way.

On Sunday night, comedian John Oliver urged viewers to go register comments supporting net neutrality on the FCC’s website, and many did. The FCC has since said that it suffered a malicious DDOS attack on its comment site, although it hasn’t provided further details.

The deliberate posting of fake comments, even though discovered, harms the legitimacy of any real comments posted on the FCC’s website. At the very least, it allows the FCC to write off any volume of comments as coming from bots or paid protesters, which in turn allows it to ignore legitimate public opinion. It’s far too early to say that’s what’s going on here, but the effect is the same: fake comments greatly diminish the value of real public feedback, regardless of who is posting the fake comments or why.

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