Bot-generated comments swamp FCC, urging overturn of net neutrality


"CFIF is not using bots or any other automated tool to generate comments", a representative of the group said by email.

It's easy to see which side is showing its nasty side in this confrontation.

The public comment portion of the FCC net neutrality debate left a huge impact on the policymaking process during the last round of discussion, in 2014.

Generally speaking, it's not that hard to spot spam comments left by bots. Prominent media personalities like John Oliver have urged viewers to express their disapproval of the the FCC's proposed positions by posting comments online.

"The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation", read thousands of identical comments posted this week, seemingly by different concerned individuals.

Aside from the fake comments flooding the website, it would seem that a lot of offensive posts are also popping up.

The FCC has received more than 730,000 public comments on Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to roll back the 2-year-old rules, which classified broadband as a regulated telecom-like service and prohibited providers from selectively blocking or slowing web traffic.

For now, it remains unclear if the FCC disabled its public comments page on objective, and is trying to hide behind the excuse of a DDoS attack. When asked about the supposed bot on its site, a spokesperson for the FCC said the agency does not comment on individual filings.

As expected, there's a garden variety of opinions in there, including pro and against net neutrality stances, but also violent, hateful, and ironic comments.

The proposal has received more than 100,000 comments since Sunday, a sign of intense interest in a proposal that could reshape the future of the internet.

On evening and morning, the public flooded the comment section and the FCC website crashed, which many attribute to Oliver's show.

"While the comment system remained up and running the entire time, these distributed denial of service (DDoS) events tied up the servers and prevented them from responding to people attempting to submit comments".

ZDNet followed up on Oliver's report and discovered a deeply suspicious trend of many Americans saying exactly the same thing in exactly the same way on the FCC's website.

"You get what I like to call the 'regulatory Streisand Effect,'" Feld says. The number of comments probably isn't reflective of the true number of people commenting, as some of the comments were submitted under the same name. He recalled statements about taking a "weed wacker" to current net neutrality rules, and pondered how an ex Verizon lawyer came to lead the FCC. Comments on the net neutrality thread will be accepted until mid-August. At this point, it's unclear how numerous 128,000 comments were legitimate and how many were fake, and no one has determined how any fake comments were generated.