Last week, AT&T took out full-page ads in a number of major newspapers nationwide claiming that the company supports net neutrality, and calling on Congress to pass legislation, a so-called “Internet Bill of Rights.” This comes just a day after year-end disclosures show AT&T spent more than $ 16 million lobbying against net neutrality and Internet privacy protections last year alone.
At the exact same time that the ads went live, Congressional staffers reported that they started getting flooded with mysterious tweets using the hashtag “#netneutlawnow,” with a message reading: “We need real net neutrality – not a CRA that can't pass. Please pass a permanent net neutrality law!”
If you just search Twitter for the hashtag “#netneutlawnow,” you only find a few tweets, like this one, from the Progressive Policy Institute, a “think tank” that’s been partly funded by … you guessed it: AT&T. If you search for the phrase that’s tweeted, you see large numbers of identical tweets, which appear to be generated through a paid hashtag campaign geo-targeted at people’s lawmakers.
Astroturf efforts like these are just the latest in a long and sordid history of campaigns funded by big telecom companies attempting to create the false impression that there is grassroots support for their terrible positions on net neutrality and consumer privacy.
The purpose of these tweets is to spread misinformation. The ISPs’ plan has always been to use the “crisis” they created by gutting the FCC rules to ram through bad legislation that permanently undermines net neutrality while claiming to “save it.”
But this latest campaign just comes off as a bit desperate. It shows that AT&T’s army of lobbyists is scared. The “CRA” that the tweets mention refers to the Congressional Review Act resolutions that are gaining momentum in both the Senate and the House thanks to the overwhelming, cross-partisan public support for net neutrality rules, and the massive backlash to the FCC’s repeal of them.
The CRA allows our elected officials in Congress to block the FCC’s decision with a simple majority in the Senate and House. We’re currently just one vote away from winning in the Senate, and there are already more than 110 co-sponsors for the CRA in the House.
It seems that the giant ISPs that spent millions lobbying to kill the FCC’s net neutrality rules are getting nervous. But lawmakers could be easily fooled by this latest astroturf campaign, so it’s more important than ever to contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them not to fall for it, and instead to support the CRA resolution and restore the net neutrality protections that should never have been taken away in the first place.
Here is a Testimonial from someone who felt misled: “It looked like an image with a ‘Tweet #netneutlawnow’ button. Now that i realize that it’s just corporate greed, I feel very misled. As a hardcore supporter of net neutrality, I say this is an outrage!" – Eric Edmondson, Queens, NY (@EricE549)
If you or someone you know may have mistakenly tweeted out one of these messages, please pm me. We could use your help to expose this astroturfing effort by AT&T.