Users across the internet, along with politicians opposed to the current administration, are reeling after their loss in the fight to preserve net neutrality. The policies, which were set in place by the Obama administration to limit the control American ISPs have in throttling user connection speeds, were repealed after a vote on December 14th of this year.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and others in the current administration cited a wealth of comments from average citizens in support of the repeal, but a recent investigation has revealed that much of this alleged commentary may have been faked. The scandal, while largely being ignored by lawmakers, is fueling a new discussion regarding the difficult of parsing real user opinions on the web.
Eric Schneiderman, New York’s State Attorney General, created a database for users to search through posts in support of the FCC repeal after increasing claims of fake comments. Morgan Knutson, a product designer, was alarmed to discover that his mother, Dana Barancik, issued a comment in support of removing net neutrality despite having died in 2014. Likewise, his grandfather, Frank Barancik, somehow also lent his support even though he passed away in 2015. Since then, countless users have taken to the database and discovered not only the names of their dead relatives, but also found their own identities stolen to support the repeal.
In light of the discovery, Schneiderman is pushing for federal authorities to investigate the scandal, claiming it likely violates state laws. The FCC has largely ignored this call, refusing offers from the attorney general for assistance in the investigation.
The issue of dead commentators supporting the net neutrality repeal obviously raises compelling questions about the alleged support the FCC chairman claimed to have in removing the policy. Equally important, however, is the debate it has raised over trusting internet communication as a whole. The FCC twisted the issue and claimed that commentary in support of net neutrality was largely spam, but as this recent investigation has borne out, the opposite was in fact the case. Some are suggesting the possibility of cryptographically secured web accounts for instances where vetting public opinion is essential.
Websites like Change.org are questionably useful given how easy it is for users to spoof identities. At the same time, having a confirmable online fingerprint would effectively destroy the anonymity that many users, particularly those that support things like net neutrality, tend to value.