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Filtering Out the Bots: What Americans Actually Told the FCC about Net Neutrality Repeal

In the lead-up to the FCC's historic vote in December 2017 to repeal all net neutrality protections, 22 million comments were filed to the agency.

But unfortunately, millions of those comments were fake. Some of the fake comment were part of sophisticated campaigns that filed fake comments using the names of real people - including journalists, Senators and dead people. 

The FCC did nothing to try to prevent comment stuffing and comment fraud, and even after the vote, made no attempt to help the public, journalists, policy makers actually understand what Americans actually told the FCC about the repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order.

This report entitled "Filtering Out the Bots: What Americans Actually Told the FCC about Net Neutrality Repeal" aims to help make that clear. To do so, this report relied heavily on previous data science work on this corpus by data scientist Jeff Kao.

This report used the 800,000 comments Kao identified as semantic standouts from form letter and fraud campaigns. These unique comments were overwhelmingly in support of keeping the 2015 Open Internet Order - in fact, 99.7% of comments opposed the repeal of net neutrality protections. This report then matched and sorted those comments to geographic areas, including the 50 states and every Congressional District.

In all, 646,041 unique comments were matched to Congressional districts. The resulting reports for each district offer an avenue into exploring what citizens concerns are, and shows the breadth and diversity of concerns citizens had about the FCC declaring it would no longer ensure that Americans got to choose what websites, applications and services they use, without interference from the companies they pay to get online.

With the fog of fraud and spam lifted from the comment corpus, lawmakers and their staff, journalists, interested citizens and policymakers can use these reports to better understand what Americans actually said about the repeal of net neutrality protections and why 800,000 Americans went further than just signing a petition for a redress of grievances by actually putting their concerns in their own words.

The creation of these reports also showed that:

  1. Commenters know what net neutrality is and articulated clearly why they needed the protections
  2. Rural Americans care about net neutrality, including being concerned about lacking choice of providers
  3. Support for net neutrality is strong in both Democratic and Republican districts
  4. The number of comments in midterm races considered to competitive are higher than average

The report also offers suggestions on how the FCC and other government agencies that allow public comment can design their systems to reduce the effectiveness of comment stuffing, while also making it easier, not harder, for Americans to participate in open proceedings.

You can download the full Filtering Out the Bots report (.pdf). 

That report includes links to the individual reports for every Congressional district and state.

10/24/18: This report was updated to include reports for Pennsylvania that correspond to the Congressional districts that were redrawn in February 2018.

Comments

This report says that data is available by Congressional District but when I downloaded NJ data, it's not broken down by CD, just by individual address. That doesn't help me make a compelling case to my NJ-CD05 Congressman that there's popular support for net neutrality in his district.

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