Nonprofit group denies astroturfing net neutrality petition

Mike Riggs Contributor
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“Don’t call it astroturfing.”

That’s the gist of a message from the Nonprofit Technology Network to The Daily Caller, sent after the tech group’s executive director read our piece from last week questioning NTEN’s and Free Press’s method of gathering signatures for a petition supporting net neutrality.

After contacting a handful of the signatories, The Daily Caller learned that the heads of many of those member groups don’t know anything about net neutrality. Not the executive director of the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, not the manager of Operation Catnip in Gainesville, Florida, not the director of development for the Planned Parenthood of North Texas.

One interviewee explained the appearance of her name on the net neutrality petition this way: “I’m a member of the Nonprofit Technology, um, I can’t remember what it stands for, but they put the survey together.”

The question we had hoped to pose to NTEN was this: How and why did the above people sign a petition calling for regulations they could not–or would not–explain? Holly Ross, the group’s executive director, was unavailable for comment at the time the story was published, but got in touch with The Daily Caller over the weekend.

“First, we did NOT survey our Members and use those results to claim they had signed the Free Press letter,” Ross wrote. “Instead, we sent an e-mail to our Members, laying out our support for net neutrality and asking them to sign on to the Free Press letter. A representative from each organization actually had to fill out and submit the form to get them listed in the letter. While the author of this piece uses language carefully to avoid saying explicitly that we engaged in astroturfing, let the record be clear that we did not.”

Ross didn’t just defend her group’s method of gathering signatures for net neutrality. She also said that it’s not unusual for NTEN’s high-level signatories (a fancy title accompanies nearly every name on the much-discussed petition) to know nothing about net neutrality.

“It is often the case that just a few people within a organization are active NTEN members,” Ross told The Daily Caller. “Not all staff participate in our community, so it may make sense that one of our active members forwarded our appeal to a staff person who isn’t that familiar with NTEN, but was in a position to sign for the organization.”

As to one signatory’s allusion to a survey, from which NTEN derived its signature?

“It was definitely NOT a survey, so I have to assume that it was a slip of the tongue,” Ross said. “We DO a lot of surveying around here, mostly on things like tech budgets, staffing, etc., so I can see where the confusion might come from.”
Ross also took the opportunity to put some distance between NTEN and Free Press. “NTEN is not a ‘media reformist group,’” she wrote. “We are the membership organization of nonprofit professionals who put technology to use for their causes. We support Free Press on the issue of net neutrality, but reforming the media is not on our list of priorities, as a review of our blog over the last few years would show. In fact, we would likely argue that the whole notion of a monolithic media is becoming irrelevant.”