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Your name might’ve been used to create fake comments on FCC website

PA's Attorney General talks about net neutrality comment concerns

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released this video about concerns about how the FCC's online public comment function related to proposed changes to net neutrality may be contaminated by fake comments.
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Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released this video about concerns about how the FCC's online public comment function related to proposed changes to net neutrality may be contaminated by fake comments.

Millions of fake comments, some made using real names, flooded the Federal Communications Commission’s website leading up to the decision in December to repeal net neutrality rules. Your name could have been one -- and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has a way that you can find out.

After research findings concluded that almost all of the comments in favor of repealing net neutrality were fake, Shapiro joined 17 other attorneys general, 28 senators and FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in asking for an investigation of the incident and a delay of the vote.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai did not support the delay and with a 3-2 vote the Obama-era net neutrality rules were repealed. The decision came despite polls that showed a majority of Americans were not in favor of the change, including one conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation and Voice of the People that showed 83 percent of Americans against it.

Immediately following the decision, Shapiro and the other AGs threatened litigation and as part of the preparation for the potential court battle, Shapiro has set up a website where a visitor can enter his or her name to determine if it, or the name of a deceased relative, was used to make a fake comment.

One of the organizations that conducted research on the fake comments was Pew Research Center. The FCC opened the comment section from April 27 to Aug. 30, 2017, and Pew found that almost 21.7 million comments were submitted electronically and posted for review.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released this video about concerns about how the FCC's online public comment function related to proposed changes to net neutrality may be contaminated by fake comments.

Among Pew’s notable findings were: 57 percent of the comments used duplicate or temporary email addresses created to be used for a short period of time and then deleted; Of the 21.7 million comments, 6 percent were unique and the other 94 percent were submitted multiple times -- in some cases hundreds and thousands of times; and tens of thousands of comments were submitted at precisely the same moment.

Pew also found that many of the comments contained false or misleading personal information and the use of common names appeared in nearly 17,000 posts.

The center summarized the research by saying “analysis of these data suggests the net neutrality comment period was marked by several organized efforts aimed at conveying the public’s feelings on this subject.”

Shapiro’s office has continued the analysis and estimates that there could be as many as 100,000 fake comments from Pennsylvanians.

The repealed Obama-era rules restricted internet service providers from slowing down speeds of certain websites and prevented the providers from offering paid access to “fast lanes,” which would guarantee consistent streaming speeds for websites such as Netflix and drive up prices for consumers.

The new net neutrality rules have yet to take effect and the FCC has not released a timeline on implementation of the changes.

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