Conclusion: there are few if any bots and lots of unhappy contractors but also clear signs of industry coordination against the rule.
I’ve seen speculation about comments on the proposed Employee or Independent Contractor Classification Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, RIN 1235-AA43, and thought some data analysis would be a good idea.
Briefly: the proposed rule would make it harder to classify people as independent contractors, pushing for them to be hired as employees. Proponents argue contractors are in fact misidentified employees, categorized in bad faith to avoid fair pay and benefits. Opponents argue the workers are genuine contractors who enjoy the freedom of working for themselves.
Both opponents and proponents accuse one another of using bots to create the comments. I thought it’d be interesting to see if the data supports that conclusion.
The federal government opened up the proposed rule for comments, here. As of December 16, 2022 the government received about 54,400 comments. I used the bulk download facility to download them as of December 15, 2022. The CSV file supplied had 50,925 records. I imported those into a database for analysis; there were 50 errors I ignored leaving 50,403 comments for analysis.
I don’t know why there is a discrepancy but, for the purpose of this analysis, it likely doesn’t matter.
I download each comment into a row of a database and used a hashing algorithm to identify identical comments on the expectation that a bot would create a large number of duplicates. Obviously, a well-written bot could make small changes to avoid detection but at least this gives some idea about bulk comments.
My conclusion is if there are bots in use, they’re sending high-volume comments opposed to the proposed regulation. However, proponents are also engaged in a lower volume of duplicate submissions.
Specifically: of the 50,875 comments, 37.7% were entirely unique with no duplicates, 57.7% had ten or fewer duplicates, another 20% had fewer than ten duplicates and 42.3% had over ten duplicates. Of those, one with 11 duplicates and another with 17 duplicates support the rule (both likely bots or copy/paste entries - see below). Two others, with 122 comments total, reference attachments I do not have access to. The remaining 21,350 oppose the rule.
Of the written high-volume opposition comments, people identified themselves as gig workers for DoorDash or Instacart, financial advisors, court reporters, and healthcare workers.
Here is the highest volume comment with 6,940 duplicates:
As one of millions of people who earn income on the DoorDash platform, I am writing to share the importance of maintaining my flexibility and independence. \n\nThe unique flexibility that app-based work provides is what makes dashing so valuable to me. Dashers like me can control when, where, and how often we dash, giving us supplemental earning opportunities at our fingertips. Regardless of my personal schedule, or the demands of other events in my life, dashing enables me to earn income in a way that a traditional job doesn\'t allow. I can also take a break from dashing for weeks or even months and then start delivering again when I need the money.
We are students, parents, caregivers, veterans, retirees, and everything in between. We are looking to fill in the gaps in our day-to-day budgets, cover an unplanned expense, or make up for lost income elsewhere.
There are millions of Americans who share my concern that the federal government should protect my ability to choose this independent work because it works for me. I ask the Department of Labor to consider the wants and needs of Dashers like me who wish to remain independent contractors.
Another 383 duplicates from DoorDash were in Spanish (the only high-volume Spanish duplicates):
Como uno de las millones de personas que obtienen ingresos a través de la plataforma DoorDash, escribo para compartir la importancia de mantener mi flexibilidad e independencia.
La flexibilidad unica que ofrece el trabajo basado en aplicaciones es lo que hace que dashing sea tan valioso para mi. Los Dashers como yo podemos controlar cuando, donde y con qué frecuencia utilizamos DoorDash, lo que nos brinda oportunidades de ingresos adicionales. Independientemente de mi horario personal o de las demandas de otros eventos en mi vida, dashing me permite obtener ingresos de una manera que un trabajo tradicional no permite. También puedo tomarme un descanso de dashing por semanas o incluso meses y luego comenzar a entregar nuevamente cuando necesito dinero.
Somos estudiantes, padres, cuidadores, veteranos, jubilados y todo lo demas. Buscamos resolver déficits en nuestros presupuestos diarios, cubrir un gasto adicional o compensar la pérdida de ingresos en otros lugares.\n\nHay millones de estadounidenses que comparten mi preocupacion de que el gobierno federal deberia proteger mi capacidad de elegir este trabajo independiente, porque funciona para mi. Le pido al Departamento de Trabajo que considere los deseos y necesidades de los Dashers como yo que desean seguir siendo contratistas independientes.
There were 15 from InstaCart that were templates:
My name is [ADD FIRST NAME HERE] and I am an Instacart shopper.\n\n[SHARE YOUR STORY HERE: WHY DOES FLEXIBILITY MATTER TO YOU]
I then ran the analysis by names where the results were more eclectic. The two most common names were anonymous and blank.
Coming in next, at 44 duplicates, is Alexandar Dolowitz who supports the change. Alex’s comments were virtually identical but different enough not to register as high-volume duplicates (the 11 duplicates in support, above, came from Alex). Like most people, Alex did not list an organization. Joe Good accounts for the other 17 duplicate comments in favor. Zachary Rosenberg wrote 13 comments in favor, slightly altering the text on them.
Karen McGraw wrote 15 identical comments against the regulation as did Cathy McCarthy whose 12 comments were:
“Freedom to Freelance
I oppose Biden\'s Independent Contractor Rule.”
In summary, I think it’s fair to conclude most people oppose the rule change but the opposition comments were coordinated by businesses or industry groups. In contrast, those in favor of the rule seemed to be using either bots or copy and paste though accounted for lower volume overall.
I personally don’t know enough about the rule other than that I certainly do believe it’s important to preserve the right to work as a contractor yet ensure that is not being abused by businesses that want to skimp on worker protections and benefits.