Campaign astroturfing and social media manipulation

Dear Editoriala:

I am writing to you regarding the Alliance for Quality Broadband Maine (AQBM) campaign that was recently conducted in my town. On Friday, June 17, I noticed a new Facebook feed, “Broadband For Maine – Protect Southport”. The headline caught my eye and after reading the content I posted a comment questioning their involvement in my island’s community vote. During the day, my post disappeared twice from this website and I reposted it twice.

My cousin (one of our town’s librarians) witnessed this and we monitored their page because of this disturbing pattern of social media manipulation and censorship. Interestingly, the AQBM homepage only provides a Portland mailing address as identification. This raised some red flags with me and I wondered who was driving this effort as no one had heard of AQBM before this point.

Over the next two weeks Southport’s mailboxes were flooded with anti-broadband leaflets and my family received six. Our community only learned who was behind AQBM after the vote thanks to investigative reporting by Maine Public Radio Steve Mistler, “Charter-Funded Group Campaigns Against Maine Municipal Broadband, Riling Residents and ‘Partners'”, which revealed that Charter Communications (Spectrum) contributed financially to their efforts which were executed by a state consulting firm , Resurgam Group.

On July 12, the online podcast Techdirt, published an article titled “Charter Runs Fake Consumer Group in Maine Killing Community Broadband — With Help from a Democratic Adviser.” Carl Bode said: “IyouIt’s not that hard for a monopoly to spend a few hundred thousand (of dollars) to scuttle such a vote. ThisThis is great for them because it saves them millions of potential competitive headaches, but it can often end up hurting the taxpayers that these bogus groups claim to be so breathlessly concerned about.

If an established West Coast internet watchdog publicly raises questions about efforts to derail Maine’s rural broadband projects, should notDon’t we do the same?

Sarah Sherman


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