What happened in the comments section of the FCC’s net neutrality hearing?
A Q&A with BuzzFeed data editor Jeremy Singer-Vine, who published a story recently regarding the fake comments on the Federal Communications Commission's online net neutrality debate.
Interviewer Nilay Patel: "What got me was [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai said over and over again, 'It is not the quantity of comments that we get; it’s the quality of them,' which, to me, felt like telecom companies like Verizon have lawyers who are writing these comments. Those are higher-quality."
Singer-Vine: "Pai’s comments and the general framing of quality over quantity is interesting because that is sort of the rule of law, that federal agencies are supposed to accept all the comments they can on any new, proposed rule..... But political operators know that even if the public version of how these things work is quality over quantity, people are paying attention to the quantity. So there are political consultancies that have cropped up over the years that help organizations, regardless of political persuasion, but help people amass comments for public comment periods."
Patel: "So the FCC doesn’t have to make sure that these are real people at all?"
Singer-Vine: "No, and in fact, when people have gone to the FCC, people who say they’ve been impersonated, the FCC not only says 'It wasn’t our obligation to prevent that, but we’re not going to take it down.' Their policy is, 'This is part of the permanent public record. If you disagree with something that’s been submitted in your name, you’re welcome to submit a follow-up comment that corrects the record or what have you.' But the FCC not only does not verify, but it does not try to verify. There’s no step in the process that would flag, for example, a large submission that seemed to impersonate a lot of people. There’s nothing in their process that would detect that."
What happened in the comments section of the FCC’s net neutrality hearing? (Vox) Political Operatives Are Faking Voter Outrage With Millions Of Made-Up Comments To Benefit The Rich And Powerful (BuzzFeed)