AT&T Is Astroturfing The FCC In Support Of Trump's Dumb Attack On Social Media

from the fake-support-for-dumb-ideas dept

We've noted for a long time that telecom giants like Comcast and AT&T have been pushing (quite successfully) for massive deregulation of their own monopolies, while pushing for significant new regulation of the Silicon Valley giants whose ad revenues they've coveted for decades. As such, it wasn't surprising to see AT&T come out with a incredibly dumb blog post this week supporting Trump's legally dubious and hugely problematic executive order targeting social media giants. You know, the plan that not only isn't enforceable by the agencies supposedly tasked with enforcing it (the FCC), but that also risks creating a massive new censorship paradigm across the entire internet.

As Mike already noted, AT&T's post was a pile of bad faith nonsense, weirdly conflating net neutrality with the ham-fisted attack on Section 230. AT&T just got done deriding the FCC's relatively modest net neutrality rules as "government interference in the internet run amok." Yet here it is, advocating for a terrible plan that attempts to shovel the FCC into the role of regulating speech on social media, authority it simply doesn't have. For those that tracked the net neutrality fight, the intellectual calisthenics required here by folks like AT&T and its favorite FCC officials have been stunning, even for Trumpland:

By "momentum," Carr clearly means "intellectually-flimsy support by lobbyists employed by a telecom monopoly."

Folks like FCC boss Ajit Pai know damn well Trump's order is laughable and legally dubious, going against nearly every principle they spent the last decade claiming to stand for. But they're going through the motions anyway to avoid upsetting dear leader and derailing any future political prospects. As a result, the FCC is burning resources holding a public comment period on Trump's EO and the (equally laughable) petition from the NTIA.

Numerous folks have submitted their comments on the record (you can read Mike's here). That includes AT&T, which is apparently not only busy making intellectually inconsistent arguments, but is providing form letters to other organizations to try and get them to support Trump's crappy EO. Some folks digging through the comments noticed that a lot of these groups are submitting AT&T's form letters to the FCC... without bothering to proof read them first:

It is surely only a coincidence that several groups with links to AT&T all submitted the same exact letter:

This is a greasy lobbying tactic companies like AT&T have employed for years. In fact, we wrote a piece just about a decade ago busting AT&T for the exact same behavior. AT&T can routinely be found giving money to groups in exchange for support for problematic to downright terrible policies, be it be support for AT&T's latest merger, or the culling of any meaningful oversight of telecom monopolies. Often this includes the "co-opting" of even civil rights or consumer groups. Other times, it involves the creation of entirely bogus "consumer rights" or advocacy groups.

The goal is always the same: to create the illusion of broad support for what's almost always terrible tech policy that aids AT&T in some way.

This sort of "astroturfing" (fake grass roots) has been a problem nobody wants to fix. This being the Trump FCC, you shouldn't expect them to police this kind of gamesmanship with any sort of integrity. You'll recall that the FCC not only turned a blind eye as the telecom sector used dead, fake, or hijacked personalities to spam the FCC during the net neutrality repeal, it actively blocked law enforcement inquiries into who was behind them.

This corporate co-opting of what's often the only chance the public has to express their thought on the record plagues numerous agencies, not just the FCC. And given AT&T's still busy doing this sort of thing nearly a decade after being busted for the exact same thing, you can clearly see how important protecting the integrity of public policy discourse is for U.S. leaders. Granted if your arguments are sound on their merits (which the Trump EO most certainly isn't), you wouldn't need to generate fake support from dead people or co-opted organizations in the first place.

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Filed Under: ajit pai, astroturf, brendan carr, comment, fake comments, fcc, ntia, section 230
Companies: at&t


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  1. identicon
    kallethen, 3 Sep 2020 @ 8:39am

    Re: So the question is...

    The latter. This was blatantly so when the FCC ditched the net neutrality rules.


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