Millions of comments supporting a controversial stance to squash net neutrality may have actually come from Russian bots using stolen identities, including some from people who have died, a new report claims.
The Department of Justice is now investigating how millions of fake messages were sent to the Federal Communications Commission, Buzzfeed reported. The comments were reportedly traced back to Russian email addresses, with nearly 21 million of the 22 million comments that the FCC received actually coming from Russians.
As the Huffington Post noted, the comments found to be unique were almost entirely in favor of net neutrality, the idea that internet service providers should provide equal access to all content, without favoring or blocking certain websites. Opponents said that eliminating net neutrality would allow providers to hike prices for certain websites or throttle websites.
“Of the total estimated 800,000 unique comments sent, 99.7 percent supported net neutrality and opposed a controversial push by the Trump administration’s commission head Ajit Pai to terminate net neutrality,” the report noted. “Pai recently admitted that Russia meddled in the system and acknowledged that 500,000 of the suspect comments were linked to Russian emails.”
The new federal investigation into the fake comments joins another investigation already in progress from the state of New York. Earlier this year, the state attorney general launched an investigation and even created a site where people could check if their identity had been used for one of the comments.
As the New York Times reported, the state’s attorney general subpoenaed more than a dozen telecommunications trade groups, lobbying contractors, and advocacy organizations to determine if they played any role in the flood of fake comments. The new report claims that a number of these groups have now received federal subpoenas as well.
“The FCC’s public comment process was corrupted by millions of fake comments,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “The law protects New Yorkers from deception and the misuse of their identities. My office will get to the bottom of what happened and hold accountable those responsible for using stolen identities to distort public opinion on net neutrality.”
Net neutrality rules went away in June after Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, called them “heavy handed” and a “mistake.” Pai argued that the rules were a deterrent to investments in broadband networks, a stance supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. Many have vowed to take up the fight to restore net neutrality under the new Democratic Congress starting next year.
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