Last year, the FCC requested user opinions on its plans to put an end to net neutrality. Shortly after, its website inevitably saw a flood of fake and automated comments overtake legitimate voices. A study has since revealed that many of these real comments supported net neutrality, prompting further investigation into millions of fake comments.
A Stanford researcher published a new study that boiled a total of 22 million comments down to just 800,000 “semantic outliers” that seemingly represent the unique opinions of real people. Analysing 1,000 of those semantic outliers revealed that 99.7 percent of opinions were against the FCC’s expected repeal, although it’s worth noting that form-generated comments were not taken into account.
These support-heavy comments were “geographically widespread,” and came from a variety of backgrounds, including both Republican and Democratic-held areas. Although many cited Title II of the Communications Act, the FCC ultimately dismissed these and any other comments on the grounds that they didn’t offer a serious legal argument opposing the repeal.
Since the reveal of these numbers, an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office has gained momentum. Launched last November, the Office issued over a dozen subpoenas on Tuesday in its attempts to find the group responsible for the millions of fraudulent comments.
“The FCC’s public comment process was corrupted by millions of fake comments,” said AG Barbara Underwood, with as many as 9.53 million stealing the identities of real people. “My office will get to the bottom of what happened and hold accountable those responsible for using stolen identities to distort public opinion on net neutrality.”
Targeting telecommunications trade groups, lobbying contractors and Washington advocacy organizations, the New York Times reports that many played a highly public role in the FCC’s efforts. The New York Attorney General’s Office went on to criticise the FCC in an open letter, highlighting uncooperative behaviour in repeatedly rejecting data requests.
Neither the New York Attorney General’s Office nor the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are publicly commenting on the matter at this time.
KitGuru Says: The sheer scale of the millions of faked comments suggests that there was a large investment in the outcome of repealing net neutrality. Hopefully the New York Attorney General’s Office can get to the bottom of things soon.