As if the debate over net neutrality rules couldn't get any more polluted, reports are surfacing that the Federal Communications Commission is being flooded with fake comments.
Thousands of electronic comments submitted to the FCC's website contain identical, duplicated messages that favor rolling back the 2015 rules, which were intended to protect websites and online services from being slowed or blocked by Internet service providers.
And when reporters from The Verge started contacting the supposed authors of the identical messages, they got denials all around. "I have no idea where that came from," Lynn Vesely, supposed submitter of one of the comments, told the website. Similarly, ZDNet found 128,000 identical anti-net neutrality comments and denials from the supposed submitters.
The FCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This story will be updated if a response is received.
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In addition to the possibly fake comments, the web site of the Washington Free Beacon turned up a handful of racist comments attacking FCC chairman Ajit Pai, an Indian-American. And many other comments appear to have been submitted under false names or contain text duplicated from activist groups on both sides of the debate. It's not clear who is behind any of the spammed or fake messages, yet, however.
The agency, which oversees the communications and media industries, sought comments starting last month as part of an effort by Pai to undo the rules passed under his predecessor, Obama-appointee Tom Wheeler. Many Internet companies and consumer advocacy groups have favored the rules, arguing that they are essential to protecting innovation and free speech online. But free market groups and large Internet service providers such as Verizon (vz) and Comcast (cmcsa) have sought to repeal the rules, saying they harm business online and deter investment in digital networks.
In a proposed rule making notice issued on April 27, the FCC said it planned to revoke the classification of Internet service providers as "common carriers" like telephone companies, a decision which provided the legal authority for the current net neutrality rules after courts struck down two earlier efforts. The agency also asked for public comment on how, or even if, it should continue to enforce the basic principles of net neutrality that prohibit blocking, slowing, or discriminating against Internet content.
The comment mess follows an effort by comedian John Oliver, host of the HBO show Last Week Tonight, to get viewers to submit pro-net neutrality comments to the FCC website. Oliver set up a web address, gofccyourself.com, that forwards to the FCC's comment page. Shortly after Oliver unveiled the address, the FCC claimed its website had crashed under a denial of service attack by unknown hackers, a claim which some have questioned.
Three year ago, Oliver spurred millions to submit comments in favor of the rules.