There’s a lot of fake news out there, but at least you’re not the one writing it, right?
Not so fast. The Federal Communications Commission has received millions of comments concerning the potential repeal of Net Neutrality leading up to today’s vote. Unfortunately, one million of those comments were written by bots, according to the New York Attorney General’s Office. And many consumers have complained to the FCC that their names and addresses were on comments they didn’t write.
The comments are all publicly available on the FCC’s website. My name is on one.
A mysterious “Monica Chin” filed a comment Aug. 2, 2017.
The comment reads as follows: “Before leaving office, the Obama Administration rammed through a massive scheme that gave the federal government broad regulatory control over the internet. That misguided policy decision is threatening innovation and hurting broadband investment in one of the largest and most important sectors of the U.S. economy. I support the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to roll back Title II and allow for free market principles to guide our digital economy.”
Hey, FCC, heads up: I didn’t write this.
This could, admittedly, be a different Monica Chin. There are 45 results if you search my name on LinkedIn.
But this gets shadier. One of our editors with a much less common name searched for his name, and found his name tied to a comment as well — the exact same comment that my name was tied to, word for word.
Unless Jason and I are both very literate, collaborative sleepwalkers, these comments were written by bots.
It’s pretty easy to check if you’re in the same boat. The Office of the State of New York Attorney General is still investigating how many fake identities were used to disseminate fake comments.
Visit the office’s website, type your name and click “Search for Fake Comments,” and a list of comments on Restoring Internet Freedom will appear in a new tab. If one doesn’t, congratulations! Your identity has not been hijacked by bots.
If you have results, it’s likely some of them are false alarms. Click each one and scroll through (or control+F) to figure out where, and if, your name is actually used.
For example, “Monica” and “Chin” appear separately in many documents, but didn’t appear together in many of the ones that came up for me.
If you find your name and address associated with a fake comment, return to the Attorney General’s Office website and click “Make a Submission about a False FCC Comment.” These submissions are publicly accessible, so be sure not to include unnecessary personal information if you’re worried about privacy.
And of course, there’s the million-dollar question: Who’s writing these? Little evidence has surfaced to incriminate the internet providers who would benefit from this vote, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast.
A reasonable guess, for the time being, is Russia. According to Bloomberg, the FCC has received 444,938 emails from Russian addresses, with the messages split between those supporting and arguing against Net Neutrality. If there was a single actor, it seems stirring the pot was the main goal — not astroturfing results for either side.