Everyday Erinyes #108

 Posted by at 9:11 am  Politics
Jan 132018

Experts in autocracies have pointed out that it is, unfortunately, easy to slip into normalizing the tyrant, hence it is important to hang on to outrage.  These incidents which seem to call for the efforts of the Greek Furies (Erinyes) to come and deal with them will, I hope, help with that.  Even though there are many more which I can’t include.  As a reminder, though no one really knows how many there were supposed to be, the three names we have are Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. These roughly translate as “unceasing,” “grudging,” and “vengeful destruction.”

I wrote last week about impersonation trolls and how “well” they are doing – for Nazis.  But it turns out that impersonation trolls are not JUST for Nazis.  Corporations are doing them too.

I know, I know, the line between corporations and Nazis is a pretty thin one, especially what with Citizens United and all.  But it seems to me that the goal of Nazis is to steal freedom, and lives, and livelihood from certain individuals, and when this involves stealing money, that’s just a fringe benefit.  Whereas with corporations, it’s just the opposite – the goal is to steal money (they are not so particular as to from whom), and any loss of life, or livelihood, or freedom is just a fringe benefit.

So we have a regime which wants generally to limit or eliminate regulations – you know, regulations, the things that keep us safe and keep our playing ground kinda sorta halfway level.  And, we have a bunch of wealthy corporations that just want to get wealthier, and those darned regulations are expensive to comply with.  Stir into the mix a sprinkling of people who know how to hack, and what do you get?  You get –

Hundreds of thousands of comments, purportedly made by Americans, have come in over the electronic transom to at least five different federal agencies calling for an end to Obama-era consumer protections and other regulations that impede profits, a series of investigative reports by the Wall Street Journal found. Except, the people who supposedly sent these comments never did.


“The Journal previously found fraudulent postings under names and email addresses at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission,” it continued. “The Journal’s findings were cited by calls from Congress to delay the repeal of the FCC’s net-neutrality rule.”

Well, we know what happened to that.

Posting a fraudulent comment on a Federal website is a felony, and the departments who have been defrauded will remove such comments when notified.  But most agencies make it a bit difficult to check the authenticity of comments independently.  Only a few, for instance, publish the email address with the comment.  And I find that reasonable.  When I post a comment, or sign a petition or a letter sponsored by an organization, I don’t mind the agency having my email address, nor do I have a problem with the organization having my email address (that’s probably how I found out about the petition.)  But I really don’t want my email posted by my name on the agency website – for exactly this reason.

I would, however, want my email address provided to any government attorney who is investigating comment fraud – and that’s just what is NOT happening.

The day before the FCC vote in late November, the Verge reported, “A search of the duplicated text found more than 58,000 results as of press time, with 17,000 of those posted in the last 24 hours alone.”

At that time, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, had been stonewalled by the FCC for six months in his office’s efforts to investigate the falsified public comments. (Verge first reported the fake comments in May 2017.)

I would certainly have trusted Eric Schneiderman with my email address (which, I suspect, is exactly why Ajit Pai wouldn’t.)   And we did hear a little bit about this, at the last minute, before the FCC threw us to the wolves – but it all happened pretty fast.  And it was just the tip of the iceberg anyway, as you see from the agencies we KNOW were targeted..

Furthermore, the impersonating software was able to insert subtle differences in the messages so that they would not be dismissed as identical.  It was even able to insert some phony comments on the side opposite the side that was being pushed!  Not so many as to distract from its main point, though.  Just enough to make unsuspecting agencies think there was an actual dialogue and real interest – on issues where there wasn’t.  Probably surprising no one, those whose identities were used without their permission were just as furious if they agreed with the comment as they were if they didn’t.

If you have a subscription to the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, you can read the full report – it’s linked from AlterNet.  (I don’t.)

But there’s one thing missing from it:

[T]hey didn’t explore the most obvious question: who is behind these moves? While there is likely to be more than one answer and one culprit, only one category of special interest has the means and motives to thwart government regulators: that’s the targeted industries, professional trade association and lobbyists and the biggest corporate players.

Instead the Journal’s investigative reports leave readers with small-scale indignation and not the bigger pattern that private sector interests have found a new way to steal and use personal data for their bottom-line battles with government.

Yes, other things happened last week.  But many of them we know about, thanks to TC and Sam and Stephen and Rachel and all the others.  And I think this is important enough to stand alone and receive the attention of all three Furies (and all their nameless sisters – you never know – there could be thousands – even millions.)

AlectoMegaeraTisiphone – it’s a deceptively simple problem.  Corporations have plenty of money to produce huge fakes (which make them more money).  Regulators do not have the resources (money, but also adequate staffing, adequate training, adequate time) to tear them down.  And, even if they did, the corporations would just have the Republicans steamroll over them.  So  it all comes down to getting them out.

We are trying our best to have candidates everywhere – and to get out the vote everywhere – and to deliver our true message well enough to get more people involved everywhere.  But – help us.  Please.

The Furies and I will be back.

Cross posted to Care2 HERE.