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New York Attorney General Expands Inquiry into Net Neutrality Comments (nytimes.com)
184 points by shadowtree 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

At the risk of coming off as some bleeding heart liberal, what's to stop corporations from doing this kind of stuff all the time? What percentage of it goes unnoticed?

Everyone knows about lobbying, but until very recently, I didn't know about the whole "astroturfing" thing.

EDIT: Not sure why I'm being downvoted for this... I didn't really intend to make my post partisan, though I realize that the self-deprecating "bleeding-heard-liberal" might appear that way.

> At the risk of coming off as some bleeding heart liberal, what's to stop corporations from doing this kind of stuff all the time?

This doesn't strike as being a conservative vs. liberal issue. Most of us can probably agree that it's an unacceptable attack on the foundations of a representative democracy.

And as a social conservative with strong "law and order" leanings, the apparent fraud and identity theft make me very angry. The unwillingness of the federal government to investigate this only adds to my frustration and anger, because it smacks of (at least) passive corruption.

>This doesn't strike as being a conservative vs. liberal issue

From the article:

>The companies and groups subpoenaed on Tuesday, according to the person with knowledge of the investigation, include Broadband for America, Century Strategies and MediaBridge. Broadband for America is a coalition supported by cable and telecommunications companies; Century Strategies is a political consultancy founded by Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition; and MediaBridge is a conservative messaging firm whose website boasts of helping to place hundreds of thousands of comments on net neutrality during Mr. Obama’s presidency on behalf of one client.

The hidden assumption that explains the grandparent comment is "conservative == attacker of the foundations of democracy" and being opposed to that makes you a communist or something. It demonstrates just how far the overton window has been shoved by partisan rhetoric.

Uggggghhh, this isn't an attack upon democracy any more than being spammed on Reddit. It isn't corrupting a vote for office or legislation. It is, however, an easily corrupted online comment system that is merely informative and not in any way asserting an outcome or action.

If you want to reduce spam and bot participation there needs to be a formal registration process with multifactor authentication of unique identifiers and it must not be anonymous.

> Uggggghhh, this isn't an attack upon democracy any more than being spammed on Reddit. It isn't corrupting a vote for office or legislation. It is, however, an easily corrupted online comment system that is merely informative and not in any way asserting an outcome or action.

Actually, since the FCC proposal specifically called for soliciting public comments to inform the decision, those comments can be seen as influencing the outcome, since lawmakers were expected to read and consider them.

It is an attack on Democracy in a very roundabout way (roundabout because this wasn't an election, it was regulatory action put in place by officials that were put in place by elected officials). But in any case, citizens were asked for what they thought in a way that affected an outcome they would have to legally abide, and it appears that their voices where stifled. That actually is a fairly obvious attack on Democracy in general, even if it's only an attack on our Democracy at a distance.

As you stated, the purpose is to inform, not vote or poll. The content of a comment is informative or it's not. How is it relevant that it was posted by a bot? How was any commenter stifled?

Officials were already aware of the range of possible opinions. The distribution of those opinions among the general public is informative, and bots were used to intentionally distort reality.

Notice and comment is required by the Administrative Procedure Act for rule-makings, not so the agency can solicit peoples' opinions, but to gather relevant legal and policy arguments and data.

In fact, if an agency said "we picked rule A because that is what the most people wanted," that would probably be an error that could warrant reversal of the rule in court. The whole point of agencies is that they're experts insulated from the political process. Their job is to analyze the law and the data to reach a reasoned conclusion (e.g. by conducting a cost-benefit analysis). Courts will reverse an agency if they engage in fallacious or erroneous reasoning. Deciding that an option is better because it is more popular would be such an error.

> Notice and comment is required by the Administrative Procedure Act for rule-makings, not so the agency can solicit peoples' opinions, but to gather relevant legal and policy arguments and data.

That's interesting. So does "we got a lot of comments from people noting how they've experienced what looks like monopolistic behavior in isolated instances that might inform whether can can expect this behavior to increase/decrease if we rule for/against the action?" count as or towards a policy argument? Legal arguments I can see being fairly specific, but policy (to my mind at least) is much more open to interpretation. Or is there some specific legal definition of policy argument they must adhere to here?

However, given enough negative feedback, an agency may decide to decline to make a rule, or in this case repeal a rule.

Do you have an example of that in the context of administrative procedure?

An online comment system will not provide a valid statistical survey.

They had polls. Nobody with a brain is using anonymous comments for that type of measurement.

Lets turn this around: Why do you feel its not a problem that a company impersonated people in order to stuff the comment box?

The problem is the comment box is easily stuffed. If you really want to turn this around why do you think quantity of anonymous comments is worthy of consideration?

No, you first. You claimed it wasn't a big deal. Explain why it's not a big deal that these large complained were flat out settling the identities of people to make it appear like they had support.

It’s very simple to me: either we want direct communication to government to have weight, and we prosecute fraud like this rigorously, or we don’t think it is worth it (for whatever reason), and we have a government that must ignore the voice of the people outside elections.

Great, then ensure that communication is valid from an actual person and never anonymous. If you aren’t willing to take communication seriously then it certainly shouldn’t have any weight.

That’s what the names and addresses where for, these comments weren’t anonymous, the government just lacks a way to verify citizens digitaly other than this trivially broken method.

But fraud no matter how easy it is to commit is still fraud. Lying to the FBI is easy to do and probably easy to get away with, but people often don’t because the penalties are severe if you are caught. A similar system could work here if there was political will to prosecute this fraud.

> It isn't corrupting a vote for office or legislation.

This is only true if you somehow believe that no one is affected by things they read online ever.

Gullible people online aren’t the decision makers. Only the 5 FCC chairs are.

Because regulatory comments aren't a vote or popularity contest, or even subject to much public attention, but are instead, in the normal case, subject to substantive review and response, ballot box stuffing in a way which makes them appear to come from less expert general public commenters doesn't really help the corporation. It only really helps on an issue where the regulatory process has public attention where the substantive outcome is a foregone conclusion but wants additional public political cover. This is quite rare for federal rulemaking.

(A milder—in volume terms—version where you try to make substantive comments seem like they are coming from involved parties with a different interest than yours—say, on a healthcare reg, a payer presenting fraudulent provider comments, might be useful, except in that case there is a lot more risk that someone would follow up on the particular comment and turn up something fishy.)

I think the recent tax cut is an example of a process with a predetermined outcome where politicians were seeking political cover to make a vote the majority of Americans disagreed with. It’s certainly possible that bots on twitter, Facebook, Instagram and reddit could be employed to amplify a particular message and provide that cover.

Oh, sure, there's probably lots of that around political issues outside of the regulatory comment process.

This isn't a "liberal" issue. It's about corruption of the government. No one decent should support that.

Nothing but the participation of citizens. Go read https://www.reddit.com/r/KochWatch and https://www.reddit.com/r/Mercerinfo/

Go research how similar write-ins have been done for decades for broadcast decency TV standards.

Corporations do do it all the time. It's called the PR industry.

It used to mean placing positive stories in the trad media. Now it means placing positive stories in the trad media, and also using shills and bots to influence social media.

Nation states also do it. Is this story true, or is it manufactured?


Is the Bloomberg chip story true, or is it manufactured - maybe to demonstrate that the US can easily put market pressure on selected Chinese businesses?

(I don't actually know the answer to either of those questions. Worldwide, only a handful of people do.)

Cognitive violence and zero-trust media have become endemic. This is a problem for any democracy, because you can't have genuine democratic accountability system when mass media of all kinds are weaponised for political ends.

I kind of agree with your points, but how do you connect these points about mass media to comments supposedly submitted by private citizens to a government agency?

Government intervention and citizen activism. That's about it.

Hopefully the fear of punishment will keep corporations from repeating this crime. It depends of how this case will go. This was clear-cut fraud, whether the author can be found remains to be seen.

> until very recently, I didn't know about the whole "astroturfing" thing

You've been on HN since 2015 and you didn't know about astroturfing? You encounter it daily here. This isn't a criticism of you, but I despair a bit. How new is this issue to other commenters?

Most users who assume they're encountering astroturfing are jumping a mile to that conclusion. It exists, but overwhelmingly these perceptions turn out to be projection–as far as we can tell from evidence.

If you think you see it happening, let us know at hn@ycombinator.com so we can investigate. But there's a reason why the site guidelines ask you not to bring this up in the threads: it damages good faith and is nearly always false.


>You encounter it daily here.

I assume you’re referring to all the commenters with whom you disagree.

Please stop making assumptions about me.

It seems like perhaps you shouldn’t make blanket assumptions about the commenters and submitters here either then, because you were pretty harsh in your own comment.

Hopefully this act of deception gets punished. Not just a slap on the wrist few million dollar fine, but the criminal indictment of the head honchos.

komali2 4 months ago [flagged]

If Ajit Pai goes to jail I'm going to throw the biggest party ever and everyone is invited. Everyone.

I've made it a personal objective of mine to send him a Christmas card every year, forever, until one of us dies, reminding him that he's a knobhead for bending over for big telecom.

Let me co-host your party. We will split the costs 50/50

I'll provide the entertainment.

I think we've come to accept government inaction, a display of helplessness, on these issues. We don't even ask for law enforcement to do its job or expect it to. We should expect more. Fraud on the Internet is just fraud, and government should be protecting us.

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