This incredible new development was reported by Buzzfeed News on Saturday, and gives at least one possible reason for the misguided decision made by the FCC last year.
Of the 22 million messages sent during 2017 to the FCC website, nearly 21 million were bots, organized campaigns or fakes, including many using stolen identities. According to a Stanford University researcher, after the fake comments were removed, 99.7 percent of all public comments were pro-net neutrality.
The study showed that there were an estimated 800,000 unique comments sent, and these were legitimate.
The Russian bot campaigns involved millions of fake, automated comments. This deluge of unauthentic opposing comments led to the FCC falsely claiming that there was widespread public sentiment against net neutrality. In fact, net neutrality was extremely popular, with nearly 100 percent of the legitimate comments being in favor of keeping it.
Almost everyone who commented opposed a push by the Trump administration’s FCC head Ajit Pai to terminate net neutrality. Pai recently admitted that Russia meddled in the system and acknowledged that many of the suspect comments were linked to Russian emails.
The FBI is now involved and has subpoenaed at least two organizations for information linked to the messages. The FBI move came a few days after New York state did the same thing.
The FBI is asking for details from 14 different Russian groups for its own investigation, according to Buzzfeed. Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are also involved and are providing support for New York’s investigation. California is adopting its own net neutrality rules.
The FCC was shut down after it was inundated with the fake comments. Members of the commission fiercely debated the pros and cons of dumping net neutrality, which had barred all internet service providers from blocking, slowing down, or charging extra for certain content.
The FCC voted late last year to terminate it, even though net neutrality is hugely popular with the American public, according to several polls.
The FCC move has made it possible for corporations to significantly increase consumer rates if users want to maintain the same internet speed for all content. Thus the FCC, and the Trump administration, has been viewed as taking steps to favor big corporations over the average citizens who are consumers of internet services.
The FCC has subsequently refused information requests by the media and from the New York state attorney general to release detailed information about the fake messages.
The New York Times also has filed a lawsuit against the FCC accusing them of making the American public the “victim of an orchestrated campaign by the Russians to corrupt the notice-and-comment process and undermine an important step in the democratic process of rule-making.”
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.