Insights from Spambot comments made against Net Neutrality

FCC on its official website said “Gathering and analyzing comments from the public is an important part of the Federal Communications Commission’s rulemaking process”. But in that last few days, FCC received tons of message from spambots.

It was quite evident that some tried to game the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s electronic public comment system on net-neutrality rules.

But who? some say it was from the supporters or foes of net neutrality or maybe even from Russia.

Data Scientist and  Software Engineer Jeff Kao used natural language processing techniques to analyze net neutrality comments submitted to the FCC from April-October 2017.

On his blog, Jeff made three key points in his study about spambots

  1. One pro-repeal spam campaign used mail-merge to disguise 1.3 million comments as unique grassroots submissions.
  2. There were likely multiple other campaigns aimed at injecting what may total several million pro-repeal comments into the system.
  3. It’s highly likely that more than 99{4c121b525f261b6e9cd1def8a3985dbe850ad058af7b7776b0968f5bd69c65ba} of the truly unique comments³ were in favor of keeping net neutrality.

Earlier it was reported that FCC received about 1 million fake comments. But a study reveals it could be more than that and could be submitted from email domains attributed to FakeMailGenerator.com, and they had nearly identical wording.

Earlier Ajit Pai said he intends to repeal Obama-era regulations that prevent internet providers from treating certain kinds of traffic differently or charging more for it. So spambots tried to use his statement to look real and authentic.

 

Dear Mr. Pai, In the matter of the future of the Internet. I strongly urge you to undo President Obama’s decision to take over broadband.

One might think this was written by a legitimate user, but only until u cross few more similar ones.

Dear Commissioners: Hi, I’d like to comment on network neutrality regulations. I want to urge the commissioners to overturn Obama’s order to control the Internet.

To the FCC: I’m concerned about an open Internet. I’d like to ask the commission to rescind The Obama/Wheeler plan to control the web. (Tom Wheeler was FCC chairman before Pai, under Obama.)

And it kept coming in thousands like this.

Mr Pai: Hi, I’d like to comment on internet regulations. I strongly recommend the Federal Communications Commission to undo Tom Wheeler’s plan to control the Internet.

Spambots used this basic structure to make 1. 4 million comments and spambots used the following structure and changed the bracketed terms in each case.

Dear [FCC]. I strongly [urge/recommend/ask] the FCC to [rescind/overturn/undo] the rules [set in place/laid down] by [Obama/Wheeler/both], which [take over broadband/control the internet]. [Normal people], as opposed to [elitist liberal bureaucrats], should be able to [use/purchase] the [services/applications/products] they want. The [Obama/Wheeler/both] plan is a [betrayal/exploitation/corruption] of [net neutrality/the open internet]. It [undid/reversed/broke] a [light-touch/market-based/pro-consumer] [approach/policy/system] that [worked/functioned/performed] successfully for [a long time] with [bipartisan support] 

“From this chart, we can see that the pro-repeal comments (there are approximately 8.6 million of them) are much more likely to be exact duplicates (dark red bars) and are submitted in much larger blocks”-  Jeff said in his blog.

And out of these 8.6 million comments, 444,938 were made from Russian email addresses but it is still unclear if they were from actual Russian citizens or computer bots originating in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Apart from these spambots FCC also received comments from persons whose life could be affected by its current policy.

I am 82, handicapped, and home bound, but not lonely, because I have the free internet. I can roam the world. use Facebook to visit family friends. I can sell my work on Etsy without fear of Amazon getting preference should the 2015 law be repealed. If you (The FCC) no longer had oversight, my ISP could raise its prices so that I couldn’t afford to have the Internet at all! I am relying on the FCC to protect me and others like me

“It’s scary to think that organic, authentic voices in the public debate — more than 99{4c121b525f261b6e9cd1def8a3985dbe850ad058af7b7776b0968f5bd69c65ba} of which are in favor of keeping net neutrality — are being drowned out by a chorus of spambots.”– the data scientist said. 

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