The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced that it will formally investigate the submission of fake comments on the FCC website during the public hearing period for the net neutrality repeal decision.
Recall that in the lead up to the December 14 vote that ended net neutrality, there were multiple calls, such as that from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, accusing the FCC of relying on fake comments to support its case to repeal. In a letter to Congressman Pallone, the GAO stated that it had accepted his and nine other Democrats’ request to investigate the fake comments. The personnel required for the investigation are currently unavailable, so it won’t begin for another five months.
The Democrats’ original request addressed both fake comments and comments submitted under stolen, but real, identities. It was clear that they were seeking to investigate both the extent and influence of fake comments on the FCC’s decision. It read as follows:
Congressmen Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07), and Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) led six other Democrats in sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting that it investigate and issue a report that uncovers the extent that outside groups were using false identities during the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent net neutrality rulemaking process.
However, the GAO’s response only addresses “fraud and misuses of American identities” and doesn’t explicitly address fake comments or the influence of said comments on the repeal decision. We hope this isn’t careful wording that avoids investigating the broader issue. Although stolen identities were used to submit a huge amount of comments, bot-generated comments with fake emails contributed too. Ars Technica recently reported on a study which revealed that only 17.4% of the comments were unique. The majority of the total comments were anti-net neutrality, but the majority of identified real comments were pro-net neutrality.