The Federal Communications Commission earlier this year – from April 27 to August 30 – allowed members of the public to weigh in on the subject of net neutrality. Millions of comments were submitted electronically and posted online for review and almost immediately, it was clear that something wasn’t quite right.
A study from consulting firm Emprata funded by industry lobbyist group Broadband for America that came out shortly after the public comment period closed found a high level of form use and bots. Now, we have another source weighing in on the matter.
Pew Research Center on Wednesday published findings from its analysis of the net neutrality comment period. Of the 21.7 million comments that were submitted, 57 percent utilized either duplicate e-mail addresses or temporary e-mail addresses that were created with the intention of being used for a short period of time then discarded.
Pew also notes that many individual names appeared thousands of times in the submissions, making it even more difficult to determine if a submission came from a specific person or someone submitting multiple comments using unverified names and fake e-mail addresses.
There’s also evidence that many people didn’t use their real names when submitting comments. While some may have accidentally done so, there appears to be a pattern of intentionally entering in bogus personal information.
The FCC was supposed to use an e-mail validation system to verify the authenticity of comments but according to Pew, only three percent of comments were subjected to the validation process. In most cases, it is unclear whether there was any attempt to validate the e-mail address a “commenter” supplied.
Also worth noting is that only six percent of the 21.7 million comments posted were unique. That means the overwhelming majority originated from organized campaigns to flood the system with repeat messages. According to Pew, the seven most-submitted comments made up 38 percent of all submissions during the four-month comment period. Each of these comments can be found in their entirety over on Pew’s website.
The stats, if nothing else, suggest that most people didn’t put much time or thought into their response.
More damning, however, is evidence showing that thousands of comments were submitted at precisely the same moment. Pew notes that, on nine different occasions, more than 75,000 comments were submitted at the very same second and that often, they were identical or highly similar. According to the analysis, three of these instances were pro net neutrality while the others were against it.
If you’ve got the time, I’d suggest looking over Pew’s findings. Even if you’re not all that interested in net neutrality, it’s fascinating to see how the whole fiasco played out.