Civic Engagement

When 'bots' outnumber humans, the public comment process is meaningless

[Commentary] Over the last month, the Federal Communications Commission received 2.6 million public comments critical of Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to roll back President Obama’s "network neutrality" rules. This outpouring of public sentiment must be evidence of participatory democracy at it best, right? Not quite. A sizable percentage of these comments appear to be fake. What the net neutrality comment debacle underscores is that the Internet age may mean the collapse of the public comment process, at least for significant public policy issues.

Sophisticated bots and automated comment platforms can create thousands and thousands of comments from senders who may or may not be real. Most rulemaking pertains to subject matter that is less widely-watched than net neutrality, and usually concerns only a small sliver of the public. The public comment process has some virtues and should continue. It is time to recognize, however, that for rulemaking over issues on the scale of net neutrality, with entrenched and vocal participants on both sides of the aisle, the public comment process has become a farce.

[Peter Flaherty is president of the National Legal and Policy Center.]

FCC's Network Neutrality Docket Appears to Shrink

The Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality docket (dubbed "Restoring Internet Freedom") is some 150,000 comments lighter as of June 8. Or at least that is according to the total on the FCC's "most active proceedings" in the last 30 days page, where it still leads the top 10 by a factor of 500 or so. That still leaves 4.78 million comments, though that is down from over 4.9 million from earlier in the week after the docket swelled by a couple of million comments since the week before.

New Facebook tools aim to help connect lawmakers, constituents

Facebook released a new set of tools to help facilitate civic engagement and discourse between voters and their representatives. The new tools give both constituents and lawmakers more targeted means of interacting with another, and are a part of Facebook’s larger push to introduce civically focused features to the platform. Facebook’s three new targeted tools now give users the options to show lawmakers that they are a constituent from their district, show lawmakers what topics are trending among their own constituents and allow lawmakers to share posts targeted specifically to their voters. The “Constituent Badge,” feature will allow users to opt in to displaying a badge that they are a part of a lawmaker’s district, so that they lawmakers can know that they’re engaging with those they represent.

FCC's Open Internet Docket Explodes

The Federal Communications Commission's open internet docket, dubbed "Restoring Internet Freedom," has seen a huge wave of comments—or at least a major update of the number posted—since June 2, with over 4.9 million posted, up about 2 million from June 2's 2.9 million-plus. Sen Ed Markey (D-MA), an opponent of Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to roll back Title II, said earlier in 2017 he thought the comments would dwarf those in the docket for the 2015 Open Internet order—over 4 million. With still more than two months left in the comment cycle, he could be right.

In Trump’s America, Black Lives Matter activists grow wary of their smartphones

As a long-time political activist, Malkia Cyril knows how smartphones helped fuel Black Lives Matter protests with outraged tweets and viral video. But now Cyril is having second thoughts about her iPhone. Is it a friend or a foe?

For all of the power of smartphones as organizing tools, the many streams of data they emit also are a boon to police wielding high-tech surveillance gear, allowing them to potentially track movements and communications that activists such as Cyril would rather keep private. Such worries are driving a nationwide push by Cyril and other activists to train members of their movement in the tactics of digital defense — something they say is crucial with an aggressive new president who has displayed little sympathy for their causes.

Should Two Trump Two Million?

[Commentary] On May 18, I had the privilege of joining a people’s protest outside Federal Communications Commission headquarters in Washington (DC). Inside on that same morning, two intransigent and backward-looking commissioners (they constitute the FCC majority) announced their intention to dismantle the good and court-approved network neutrality rules put in place by the previous FCC. Their intention is to close the open internet. Meanwhile more than 2,000,000 Americans had already contacted the Commission directly, the overwhelming majority seeking to keep the net neutrality rules and guarantee an internet that serves us all rather than kowtow to big cable and bloated telecom. In the May 18 match-up, 2 trumped 2,000,000, and the semi-final proposal was circulated, with final approval likely late this summer or early fall. Unless even more of us get involved.
[Michael Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009.]

Fight for the Future Cites More 'Fake' FCC Comments

Fight for the Future sees dead people. At least it says a few have somehow filed anti-Title II comments to the Federal Communications Commission according to reports from the deceased's friends.

The group has also found another dozen or so people—twice the original number—who say anti-Title II comments were filed in the FCC docket under their names that they did not submit. In addition, the group said it has been hearing from people saying that a comment was filed under the name and address of a deceased family member. The group claims that over 450,000 fake comments have been submitted and that the FCC "is still refusing to remove fake comments, even when victims call the FCC directly and demand that their name and personal information be removed from a public docket endorsing political messages they don’t agree with." Fight for the Future also said it had received three reports from friends of recently deceased individuals whose names were on comments, saying the comments would have had to be posted posthumously.

Someone impersonated them to slam the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Now they want answers.

More than a dozen people sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission saying that their names and contact information were improperly used as part of a widespread political campaign meant to discredit the commission's network neutrality rules. Calling on the FCC to investigate and delete the "dishonest and deceitful" messages made in their name, the citizens said officials cannot afford to ignore the flood of fake comments apparently designed "to manufacture false support for your plan to repeal net neutrality protections."

"To see my good name used to present an opinion diametrically opposed to my own view on Net Neutrality makes me feel sad and violated," said Joel Mullaney, one of the people who signed the letter. "Whoever did this violated one of the most basic norms of our democratic society, that each of us have our own voice, and I am eager to know from what source the FCC obtained this falsified affidavit. I have been slandered."