The comments are important in this case because the FTC needs feedback from the public as an important part of the rulemaking process. However, the feds are not interested in what spambots think.
The political scene has been flooded with automated comments in recent years. In 2016, the presidential campaigns of Donald J. Trump and Hillary R. Clinton both resorted to spambots to make their point.
The bots can issue thousands of messages on a particular topic pushing for a specific point of view. However, the messages usually originate from a single source. Some automated messages are easy to identify but others use complicated algorithms that make messages to look unique.
Spambot Flooding FTC’s Site with ‘Unique’ Comments
Last week, the FTC announced a plan to roll back net neutrality rules. The announcement triggered a tidal wave of angry comments, with many users voicing concerns that the decision would stymie innovation or benefit telecoms.
An analysis revealed that a spambot issued 800,000 automated messages that included the phrase “smothering innovation”. All the comments had a unique source.
But when it came to pro-repeal comments, things became more complicated. Even though the messages seemed to originate from unique, human users, on a second look, they had the same structure, but synonyms differed.
A data scientist found that spammers used an original message which had bracketed words that changed with every new message sent. For instance, “Dear [FCC/Mr. Pai/Commissioners]. I strongly [urge/recommend/ask] the FCC to [rescind/overturn/undo] the rules [set in place/laid down] by [Obama/Wheeler/both]” was the source message for hundreds of “unique” messages.
Data analysts believe spam campaigns have just reached another level.
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