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More Than 80 Percent of All Net Neutrality Comments Were Sent By Bots, Researchers Say ( 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The Trump administration and its embattled FCC commissioner are on a mission to roll back the pro-net neutrality rules approved during the Obama years, despite the fact that most Americans support those safeguards. But there is a large number of entities that do not: telecom companies, their lobbyists, and hordes of bots. Of all the more than 22 million comments submitted to the FCC website and through the agency's API found that only 3,863,929 comments were "unique," according to a new analysis by Gravwell, a data analytics company. The rest? A bunch of copy-pasted comments, most of them likely by automated astroturfing bots, almost all of them -- curiously -- against net neutrality. "Using our (admittedly) simple classification, over 95 percent of the organic comments are in favor of Title II regulation," Corey Thuen, the founder of Gravwell, told Motherboard in an email.
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More Than 80 Percent of All Net Neutrality Comments Were Sent By Bots, Researchers Say

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @08:53PM (#55305143)

    Get rid of em.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Bots promoting policy positions that will weaken American world dominance.
      I don't want to rush in to judgment but it seems like a familiar pattern...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This one sounds more like Ajit Pai and his buddies hired a merc bot company to either feign citizen enthusiasm for destroying the net or to sabotage the legitimacy of the comments so the comments could be ignored and the ruling class could get their way. There's no reason to assume Russian involvement when we have so many people here frothing at the mouth to destroy the internet / country.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Except that the reporting on the facebook ads that the russians bought fits this pattern exactly: Find a divisive issue and amplify.

  • 95% of the bots (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @08:59PM (#55305167)

    Were 3rd party sites aggregating signatures from a campaign. But yeah, "BOTS!".

  • No matter what the provenance is of the comments, Ajit Pai and The Donald will use them in their favor as political cover for whatever they want to do.

    • That's "Unfit Donald". Seems fair if he speaks of other people with that level of respect that he receives it in kind.

    • No matter what the provenance is of the comments, Ajit Pai and The Donald will use them in their favor as political cover for whatever they want to do.

      It's unfortunate that the economy is going great, leadership had a strong response to 3 successive hurricanes, we got out of TPP and the Paris accord, and have cracked down on illegal immigration.

      Otherwise, what you are moaning about could be construed as a bad thing.

    • Look, there are only 80 comments on this article. Where is the army of propaganda drones for this story? Its like they didn't have a response ready for this one. I think this operation was actually an amateur one. You will see more astroturfing attempts like this all over the place, and most of the time you won't even realize it's going on.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder if the bots are aware that they will be the first to get throttled once net neutrality has been repealed?

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Bots don't have feelings, they are killed when they no longer serve a purpose.

      I tried to make an 'execution' pun but it would be fully retarded. And you never go full retard.

      Anyway - the immense use of bots indicates how important it must be for commercial interests to get rid of the net neutrality.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's easy to hate on the singularly hateable, and deservingly hated, personage of Donald Trump.

    But you know what? Trump did everything humanly possible short of literally strapping on a giant unkempt beard and walking out the front door of Trump Tower naked holding up a giant sign saying "I AM YUGELY UNFIT FOR OFFICE, BIGLY DO NOT VOTE FOR ME" to prove that he was not fit to be president.

    Having voted for Trump says more about Trumpers than about him. It was a test of ability to discern right from wrong, and

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "Having voted for Trump says more about Trumpers than about him."

      And even more about the alternative choice.
    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Well, he could have *actually* gone and shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue. Wait... scary thought... how do we know he didn't and wasn't just gloating about getting away with it? Maybe we should cross index several decades of NYC police reports with his whereabouts.

    • Personally, I think Trump's success says more about Hillary than about Trump...

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @09:05PM (#55305209)
    Who the hell would be against net neutrality except a few straggling brainwashed fools who would have a different opinion if they only knew what was real? Yes sign me up for vastly increased monthly payments, squish small businesses and startups, micro payments on everything net related, separate fees to access different sites, suppress competing services and views not held by big ISPs, and hell yes please make internet access whitelist sites only for my own protection and those of DRM!!1!!!1!
    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @12:25AM (#55306111)

      Who the hell would be against net neutrality except a few straggling brainwashed fools who would have a different opinion if they only knew what was real?

      There are actually two possible solutions here, only one of which is net neutrality.

      • No net neutrality. But also no government-granted monopolies. If people actually had a choice of ISPs, any ISP trying to charge websites for access would be shooting themselves in the foot. Their customers would notice Netflix was slow, hear that Netfix was fine on their friend's ISP, and switch their service to the other ISP.
      • Keep the government-granted monopolies. Use net neutrality to keep them in check. Basically more government regulation to fix a problem created in the first pace by government regulation. ISPs can succeed in making websites pay them for "fast lanes" only because they know their customers are their captives. Instead of the customers being able to access the website via a different ISP, the website has no choice but to pay the ISP if it wants those customers to have access.

      FWIW, most of the rest of the world uses the first one.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The first is no option, especially since at this point these monopolies need no more government funding. And it's a similar situation in virtually every industry in the US.

      • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @05:27AM (#55306793)

        How about net neutrality AND dropping government mandated monopolies? Ever thought about that?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 outlawed government-granted monopolies. The problem isn't government, its the enormous cost of the cable plant which is a 'natural' barrier to entry. Well, there are a bunch of states that have made it illegal for municipalities to own their own cable plant. All those laws were passed with lots of lobbying money from the cable companies after local goverments like Chattanooga built their own cable plants.

        • How about net neutrality AND dropping government mandated monopolies? Ever thought about that?

          Sounds good, so long as the "final mile" are turned into common carrier public utilities similar to the electric grid. That removes the barrier to entry, moves the infrastructure backbone to the public's side of the equation removing duplication of resources and allows competition in the service provider part of the equation.

      • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @08:05AM (#55307191)

        The problem with your scenario is that it presents a false choice by framing ISP monopolies only existing because of government approval. That may be true for cable television franchises specifically, but not internet access.

        The reality is that utilities are fairly close to a natural monopoly because of the complex infrastructure required. We lack competition not because of government granted monopolies, but because duplicating infrastructure is expensive and the economics of it are poor (essentially your are splitting a fixed market against an entrenched competitor).

        What we need is for the government to acknowledge the existing monopoly status and impose a means of regulation that limits exploitation of the monopoly that already exists, and probably further, does something to eliminate the ability of a monopoly to exist (ie, a municipal fiber network with equal access at the head end).

      • There is no such thing as a 'free market' without heavy regulation. The natural state of capitalism is not healthy competition but instead they will divide up customers and create monopolies. Why the hell should a company willingly get less money when they can collude and take in triple profits? The only possible reason is they cannot because the government regulates fair treatment. We really need both net neutrality and competition both, neither one without the other is best, losing either makes thing
      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        Canada has tried to implement both. We have net neutrality and the previous government was really trying to get some competition happening, though mostly wireless.
        With large sparsely populated countries, it is just too expensive to build the infrastructure and you inevitably end up with a couple of companies splitting the customers with perhaps the mostly densely populated areas having some choice.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Without Net Neutrality you as a customer would have to pay extra for access to any service that the ISP don't have a payback agreement with. It would also allow ISPs to create their version of YouTube where they decide which videos that you can watch and set the standard for the videos you can post.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Republican Party platform is officially against net neutrality, and after the past couple years of them pushing that angle, every Republican I know is against it. It's a lot more than a few straggling brainwashed fools. It's a whole fucking horde of brainwashed fools.

  • This isn't voting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by volkris ( 694 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @09:08PM (#55305229)

    Slashdot needs to give its readers more context in these posts about regulation feedback. Specifically, it needs to emphasize that in the US regulatory process, this comment phase is not voting. The numbers don't really enter into it.

    The regulator has to address issues raised in comments, but that's about counting issues, not comments. An issue with one comment is to be addressed just as an issue brought up by a thousand comments.

    The FCC is subject to the laws our representatives pass. THAT's where we give the marching orders. This regulatory process is only about seeing to it that the commission implements the laws handed to it.

    • by dunkindave ( 1801608 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @09:18PM (#55305281)

      Oh you poor naive fool.

      Congress deliberately passes broad sweeping laws that leave a lot of discretion for the enacting agencies since Congress can't be bothered by the minutia. In this case it is the FCC that put the current Net-Neutrality provisions in place, not Congress, and the FCC can take them away. The comments aren't a vote, but they will certainly be used by the politicians to justify their actions - "Look, we were doing what the public demanded. 90% of those commenting were against Net Neutrality, so we did what they public wanted us to do."

      • by volkris ( 694 )

        That's not quite how the US government works.

        Congress cannot give agencies blank checks to do whatever they want. Yes, they can direct that agencies fill in the details of policies, but the policies have to originate in congressional action, passed by law. The granting of discretion has been abused, but even so it's not unlimited.

        Regulators are required to show that their actions are the result of legal mandates. They have to show that they were, in one way or another, ordered to come up with the regulation

        • Congress cannot give agencies blank checks to do whatever they want.

          Oh, you sweet, summer child.

          If an agency is going back and forth on a regulation, it's a sign to the courts that the agency is operating outside of law, and the regulation may be found to be void.

          Basically, what you're saying is that the agencies can basically do what they want and then say, "So sue us". Which, by the way, is exactly what happens. Then you have a fight over standing to sue, and the Justice Department will weigh in, and if

        • That's not quite how the US government works.

          Exactly, you don't get a law by writing letters to politicians. You get a law by writing checks to politicians.

          • by dryeo ( 100693 )

            That's not true. If it is a law that no business cares about enough to write a check, letters can work fine

        • by pots ( 5047349 )
          First, you're not contradicting the parent. He's saying that regardless of the legal weight of the comments (none), they will still be used as an excuse when passing legislation. That is exactly how the US government works.

          Second, this is a misrepresentation of the situation:

          but because they can show that they have a mandate by law to correct the error committed by the previous commission

          They most certainly can not show that. The most generous interpretation of events is that the FCC has conflicting mandates: one to promote broadband deployment, and another to promote investment and innovation. Neither this commissi

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday October 03, 2017 @10:06PM (#55305565) Homepage Journal

      While what you say about this not being an election is true, this actually raises an interesting question: if the number of comments support a certain position has no effect on the outcome, why was this bot campaign conducted?

      There are broadly speaking two possible answers. The first is that the people who orchestrated the campaign do not understand how these regulatory decisions will be made. The second possibility is that they *do* understand, but believe that the appearance of widespread public support will either influence those decisions, or provide some kind of useful pretext for making unpopular decisions.

      • Or third possibility

        [tin foil hat]
        False flag operation by companies that want net neutrality. Knowing that the comments will be discovered as bots since it is not the first time this has happened so they can say; "look how evil [insert opposition] is. They are using bots to push their agenda! The People(tm) want net neutrality! Evil corporations hate NN. They are using bots to take away your internet! NN is the only answer.".
        [/tin foil hat]

  • Next astroturfing campaign to feign overwhelming opposition to an extremely popular idea - use an algorithm to generate the complaint, copy and paste is too easy to spot.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I for one like net neutrality. But let's be honest, the comments I sent in support of net neutrality were standard from the EFF (basically copy pasted). Is it possible the same process is being used for those that oppose net neutrality? A standard website that says "show your support against net neutrality" and then gives the user a standard comment that is most usually clicked out of laziness.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      "the comments I sent in support of net neutrality "

      You're no better than the bots. It's just a matter of quantity, assuming you didn't send millions of comments.
  • It was obvious to me at the time. In fact I said as much here on Slashdot when the story of the flood of anti-NN comments was posted.
  • Dear Gravwell, Please provide the originating IP addresses of all the ass-surfing bots. Thanks in advance.
  • Roughly 1% of Americans favor net neutrality.

  • When I first saw the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, I read through it cover to cover. When I prepared my response, I made an effort to answer all of the questions I was competent to respond to. I also made a proposal (in a separate comment) of an alternative to the black-and-white stance, by providing a nice grey option. I've not seen any response to either. And, given the bias of the current Commission, I don't expect to see any discussion of my contributions. Feh.
    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Yeah, it's a really frustrating topic to have a constructive conversation about... most techies qualified to discuss solutions can't keep their eyes open through the NPR, most people who have read the NPR are telcom PHBs, and most people in general have strong opinions without qualifying for either category.

  • Bots, fake comments, and the government doing unpopular things.

    Are you starting to sense a pattern here?

  • We've been hearing about how robots are coming after our jobs. Now they are even getting into politics!

    I'm just glad they are supporting net neutrality!

  • No reason domain veto rights should rest in the hands of a group inclusive of repressive regimes ranging from 3rd world dictators to China to the UK. It's the American internet, Obama's worst move in terms of the internet was pushing to have censorship authority transferred out of the US.
  • Consumers really have no need for ISP's in the first place. The internet is merely a network and can be extended fairly easily using a mesh network. If you're not familiar with the term look it up. Of course, government tries to prevent circumventing monopolies through use of FCC regulations, but still possible. A simple mesh network would provide everyone with free internet access and would put the power back into the hands of the consumers. There are several mesh networks already available and new ones b
  • I am utterly shocked to hear there is a group of companies who are racing to the bottom on customer care while racing to the top on pricing and bundling.

    And this SAME GROUP is having cheap, automated spam thrown at the FCC in an apparent attempt to kill off measures that would encourage fair competition and prevent vertical monopolies.

    In all seriousness, I am surprised. I expected outright bribes---or campaign contributions, whatever they call it these days. Maybe they're trying to cheap out on that too.

  • 95% of "organic" comments were pro mega-corp ? I find that very difficult to believe; actually, I don't believe it.
  • This is /. - I thought SOMEONE would have thought to write a "bot" to add comments FOR net neutrality, although considering it's got a fucken API I doubt the program could be called a "bot". Really starting to hate that word btw. Personally in my country net neutrality was never in place, you can surf netflix and facebook even when all other websites are reduced to a crawl, which is great for netflix but I fucken hate facebook (but it does stop the wife bitching, so can't really complain).
  • Why shouldn't those who are able to code a bot be welcome to have it cast more votes for them? Capability here is the currency, and money is free speech.

  • I see a lot of comments here suggesting that these anti-net neutrality posts may not have been a bot campaign but some kind of canned message opposite to the EFF campaign. I happened to be submitting a comment on the FCC site while the bot campaign was running, and you could refresh the site and see each time-stamped comment as it came in. The bot comments were all identical text, which could be expected even it it weren't a bot, but the obvious thing that tipped me off while looking at it was that the comm

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