Yesterday’s Pew Research study led to incorrect reports
Yesterday, the Pew Research Group released a study that triggered a number of new reports about issues within the FCC’s net neutrality comment docket. The Pew study, unfortunately, contained a number of serious inaccuracies, and lacked needed context in a way that conflated legitimate grassroots advocacy and organic online outrage with malicious attempts to manipulate the FCC docket with fraud.
"The FCC sabotaged its own public comment process for the exact purpose of sowing the type of confusion that we’re seeing now," said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, "They knowingly allowed malicious actors to abuse their system and submit enormous numbers of fraudulent comments using real people’s names and addresses without their permission, and they’ve refused to cooperate with investigations or transparency laws."
She continued, "Their goal is to obscure the fact that the overwhelming majority of people from across the political spectrum oppose Ajit Pai’s extreme proposal to gut net neutrality protections. All you have to do is look at the unique comments in the docket that people took the time to draft by hand: almost 99% of them support existing net neutrality protections. Congress must take action now to demand the FCC cancel its planned vote on December 14. It’s unconscionable that the agency would move forward with such a controversial proposal while so many allegations of serious fraud and abuse surround their rulemaking proceeding."
Here are some key things that the Pew study got wrong:
- The original Pew study claimed that there had only been 450,000 comments during the FCC debate in 2014. There were closer to 4 million. Pew has since corrected this error after we brought it to their attention, but they have not addressed the points below.
- The Pew study claims that comedian John Oliver promoted our net neutrality advocacy site BattleForTheNet.com – to our knowledge that is incorrect. During his viral net neutrality segment, John Oliver directed viewers to his own page: GoFCCYourself.com
- The study casts suspicion on legitimate comments using the text from BattleForTheNet.com, noting that 476,000+ were submitted at the same time on July 19. That’s because these comments were submitted as a CSV using the FCC’s "bulk upload" option, a perfectly legitimate way to submit comments to the agency, and in fact the one that the agency encouraged groups to use. Pew never asked us about this, or we would have been happy to provide them with the records of this.
- The study claims that the large bulk of comments came from "a small number of organizations," and points to BattleForTheNet.com as an example. However, this is a mischaracterization of what the site is. It’s an Internet-wide coalition effort that has been promoted by dozens of public interest organizations, hundreds of startups, and thousands of websites, apps, and online communities who participated in the July 12 day of action and other campaigns.
- Overall, the study fails to give readers needed context to understand the difference between a legitimate comment submitted through a site that provides a concerned constituent to add their name to a default statement, and comments that were submitted using real people’s names and addresses, likely stolen from breached databases, without those people’s permission or knowledge. The study seemed to be unaware of the various ongoing investigations surrounding this issue – including a law enforcement investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office. By failing to include essential information about the comments they analyzed, the Pew study offers a distorted view of what’s happening in the net neutrality docket.