A data scientist revealed that of the 22 Million comments that flooded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website, only 800,000 were genuine and 99% of the messages were in support of net neutrality.
Jeff Kao conducted a study which used a natural language processing program to determine the uniqueness or originality of the comments posted on FCC’s website. The result of Kao’s study led to the conclusion that at least 1.3 million of the anti-net neutrality comments were fakes.
Kao believes the comments originated from a large- scale mail merge campaign which tried to make the posts unique but was only substituting synonyms on what was essentially the same message.
Although there was also proof of fake comments coming from the side of pro-net neutrality supporters, the anti-net neutrality messages appeared more likely to be duplicates and transmitted via large blocks thereby supporting allegations of massive spamming.
While the matter of bots working to flood the FCC website with comments from both sides were well known, what is disconcerting about the results of Kao’s study is the commission’s refusal to look into the issue and address its official position on possible information manipulation.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman posted an open letter which disclosed he requested the FCC’s assistance to investigate claims from thousands of New York residents that their names were fraudulently used in the website’s comments section to boost the commission’s anti-net neutrality position.
Schneiderman said in the letter that he requested for records “at least nine times” between the months of June and November. He also brought the issue to the attention of key FCC officials including its Chairman Ajit Pai but received “no substantive response”.
Schneiderman alluded to similarities between the allegations and those regarding Russia’s reported manipulation of the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections.
In 2015, Ajit Pai voted against net neutrality. When he was appointed FCC Chairman by U.S. President Donald Trump, Pai vowed to dismantle the provisions in support of net neutrality.