The Federal Communications Commission has received hundreds of thousands of allegedly fake comments in support of net neutrality, according to an organization’s analysis. The new claim comes one week after another organization claimed to have uncovered almost half a million fake comments filed in opposition to the rules.
Almost 20 percent of the more than 2.5 million public comments filed on the FCC’s proposal to scale back net neutrality rules are fake, specifically comments opposing the plan, according to the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a right-leaning non-profit and self-described “government watchdog.”
“More than 465,322 pro-net neutrality comment submissions were made in which either the filers’ names were being submitted with the email address of an obviously different person or in which the same email address was used to file multiple comments – in some cases thousands of times,” the group said Wednesday.
The group said language in 100,000 of those comments was borrowed from an Electronic Frontier Foundation letter desk campaign and created from a fake email generator program pulling from as many as 10 different email domains. Hundreds of those comments reportedly included fake physical addresses and “possibly even fake names,” according to NLPC.
Multiple email addresses were pulled from databases posted and used by spammers and hackers publicly online, the group’s analysis states. Peter Flaherty, president of NLPC, said he believes the “full breadth of the fake comments” is “massive.”
“Based on our initial read, almost one fifth of all pro-net neutrality comments submitted into the docket appear to have come from email addresses that have made multiple submissions, sometimes with duplicates in the thousands,” Flaherty said.
The group appeared to rely primarily on Google to look up names, addresses and email accounts suspected of being fake. The analysis also showed fake email addresses and other personal information generators used to create information used in the comments, in some cases thousands of times.
Flaherty suggested the pro-privacy EFF itself may be behind the fake comments, which he described as “an unprecedented privacy breach if they knowingly culled other people’s email addresses from spam databases,” and “definitely deserves further investigation.”
The group plans to submit its findings to a professional data forensics expert for a more thorough analysis. If confirmed, they’ll ask Congress to conduct an investigation.
“We plan to work with a reputable forensics expert and release a full report on the extent of the problem,” Flaherty said. “Gaming a regulatory rulemaking in this way is highly deceptive and completely undermines the integrity of the public comment process.”
In response EFF flatly denied its platform was used to submit fake comments.
“The report is false,” the group told InsideSources in a statement. “Not one name, email address, or email domain cited in the report matches any of the comments that came through EFF’s comment tool. Making the case for net neutrality doesn’t require fabricating names and address when real people across the country are speaking out for it every day.”
The report comes a week after Fight for the Future, one of the non-profit advocacy groups opposing the Trump administration’s plan to scale back net neutrality rules, claimed in a letter to the FCC more than 450,000 anti-net neutrality comments are fake, some filed with real names, addresses, and other personal information of individuals nationwide.
Fake comments have been pouring in almost since day one, with one user filing almost 1,000 identical comments supporting the Obama-era rules. Another 2,000 have been filed under the name of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver, who dedicated a segment of a recent episode to calling on average internet users and trolls alike to comment on the proceeding.
InsideSources reported last week that fake comments are unlikely to have any impact on the proceeding, since the FCC won’t be basing its decision on the number of comments filed for or against the plan. A senior FCC official said in April the agency will base its decision on whether the arguments contained in the comments and data are factual and have sound legal backing.