Latest in Entertainment

Image credit:

FCC received thousands of fake letters supporting NFL's blackout rule

Astroturfing isn't just limited to the football field.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
September 10, 2018
Share
Tweet
Share

Sponsored Links

Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fake FCC comments aren't just reserved for net neutrality opponents. The Wall Street Journal has discovered that the FCC received about 21,000 identical letters urging the regulator to let the NFL keep its blackout rule, which let it ban cable and satellite airings of home games that weren't sold out when the league blocked local broadcasts. These weren't even subtle attempts, either. In addition to using the identities and email addresses of some people without their consent, the campaign relied on some obviously fake messages -- at last check, Bilbo Baggins was more interested in magic rings than cheering on American football teams.

It's not certain that the NFL itself was directly responsible. The league claimed in a statement that it conducted "transparency public advocacy efforts" and "followed the playbook" of conventional advocacy campaigns. However, the bogus letters came with cover letters signed by former pro player Lynn Swann, and his assistant confirmed that he'd authorized their inclusion. The NFL also hired four firms to lobby Congress, and the WSJ has learned that a letter-generating website was linked to a PR firm that worked with the NFL at the time. Given that some of the letters swiped real people's identities, it's doubtful that all of the messages came from sincere supporters.

Much of this is water under the bridge. The FCC voted against the blackout rule in 2014, and the NFL ditched its policy in 2015. However, it does illustrate that online astroturfing (aka fake grassroots) campaigns are far from new at the FCC, and that the agency still hasn't done much to deal with them in the years since.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Comment
Comments
Share
Tweet
Share

Popular on Engadget

Engadget's 2020 Back-to-School Guide

Engadget's 2020 Back-to-School Guide

View
Google Play Music will start shutting down in September

Google Play Music will start shutting down in September

View
YouTube Music will transfer your Google Play songs with one click

YouTube Music will transfer your Google Play songs with one click

View
Phil Schiller is ending his long reign as Apple's marketing chief

Phil Schiller is ending his long reign as Apple's marketing chief

View
A $13,000 electric car will go on sale in the US by late 2020

A $13,000 electric car will go on sale in the US by late 2020

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr