On the year former President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission voted to reform web neutralitythe regulator has been inundated with more than 22 million comments. Almost 18 million of them were fake, along with some 40% of those originated from an influence campaign connected to the broadband business, New York Attorney General Letitia James found in a 39-page report released on Thursday.
Some 8.5 million of the fake comments used the names and personal information of actual people with no knowledge or consent, ” she added.
Web neutrality denotes the principle that broadband providers must treat all content equally, without blocking, slowing down, or charging to improve certain content. Advocates fiercely opposed its repeal, along with the attorney general stated that the broadband industry secretly funded a campaign that contributed to its own demise. Three of these firms called the”lead generators” of those attempts –Fluent, Inc.,” Opt Intelligence, Inc., along with React2Media, Inc.–have entered into settlements with the attorney general’s office.
“The settlements require the companies to pay $3.7 million, $550,000, and $150,000 respectively, due to their misconduct,” the report says. “The settlements also impose detailed reforms for any long term attempts to protect consumers and prevent fraudulent comments.”
That Astroturf campaign, since the report describes this, was in turn funded with $4.2 million from Broadband for America, an industry-funded non-profit made up of senior executives from the broadband businesses and trade groups, according to the attorney general.
“The broadband group believed this service — in combination with media outreach, social networking campaigns, and coordinated figures from the broadband business and free-market economists — will’contribute [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai quantity and intellectual pay’ for redesign,” the attorney general’s report discovers, referring to this industry-friendly pioneer of this commission throughout Trump’s tenure. “Indeed, one broadband business executive — himself a former chairman of the FCC — informed members of BFA’s executive committee, in an email, who’we would like to be sure Pai can find those opinions so he can discuss the significant number of comments supporting his stance .'”
The broadband business participants in the report are not named, along with also the attorney general’s office says the investigation is ongoing. But the attorney general added that the workplace”has not found proof that the broadband firms or their firm had direct knowledge the lead generators that they had funded engaged in fraud.”
“As a consequence, the OAG has not found these parties violated New York law,” the report says. “But, the conduct of the broadband businesses and their lobbying company raises serious issues.”
Broadband for America’s president did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s petition for comment.
“Americans voices have been drowned out by people of fake comments and messages being submitted to the authorities to sway decision making,” James wrote in a declaration. “Rather than actually looking for real answers from the American people, marketing businesses are luring vulnerable people for their sites with freebies, co-opting their identities, and fabricating answers that giant companies are then using to affect the polices and legislation that govern our lives. However, today, we’re taking action to root this out fraud and the impersonation that’s been corrupting the process for way too long.”
Her office’s analysis determined that almost 80 percent of these bogus comments related to the broadband industry derived by a practice known as co-registration, in which customers are offered rewards to their personal information.
“Marketing offers varied widely, and contained everything from discounted children’s movies to free trials of male enhancement goods,” the report says, embedding screenshots of representative promotions. “The broadband business generated solicitations to operate alongside these marketing offers, requesting consumers to join the campaign opposing net neutrality,” the report continues. “Replies would be accumulated and used to generate comments. The rest of the comments — approximately 20 percent — have been created using online advertisements placed on sites across the net.
James added that web neutrality is only one issue that’s been hacked by inauthentic commenters.
“From web neutrality principles to legislation affecting criminal justice reform, healthcare, and much more, these fake comments have only been generated to impact too many federal policies, which is the reason why we are cracking down on this deceptive and illegal behavior,” James said in her statement.
The attorney general found that the 3 companies that entered in the settlements were included in more than 100 additional advocacy campaigns.
“The companies played the same part in those efforts: to obtain individuals’ consent to publish comments, letters, and petitions to the authorities,” the report says. “During this project, the companies helped generate more than 1 million opinions for rulemaking proceedings operate from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, along with the FCC, and even also more than 3.5 million electronic signatures for speech and petitions to federal and state legislators and government officials.”
As outlined in this report, among the fake comments was submitted in the title of Nassau County, New York resident Kenneth Langsam, who had died seven years before he supposedly”urge[d]” the FCC to shed net neutrality. James claims that his story isn’t unique, and that she quotes other New Yorkers she states were victimized by opinions unwittingly submitted in their title.
“I find it very ill and disrespectful to be using my deceased dad to attempt to make an unpopular choice seem the contrary,” one is quoted as stating.
“Who knows what else has been stated under my title?”
See on the attorney general’s report below:
(Photo through Joshua Rashaad McFadden/Getty Pictures )
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