Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rigging online polls almost as simple as hacking Twitter - reports

The Alternative Press Readers Chart came in for some special attention, reports Hypebot:

Digital street team enabler Fancorps set out to offer some proof by asking members of four of its band street teams to vote for their favorite artists in the 2009 Alternative Press Readers Chart. The result? Teams using the Fancorps platform (Forever The Sickest Kids, Anberlin, Hit The Lights, and Ludo) grabbed the top four slots.

"When we learned of the AP Reader's Poll, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to motivate Fancorps members of the street teams we administer to try and truly effect a tangible outlet," said Tony Edwards, Director of Sales and Marketing at Fancorps. "When the issue hit news stands and our teams had topped the chart we were thrilled and further re-assured that our efforts and system undoubtedly can return unquestionable results."

Actually, Mr Edwards, what you've proved is how valueless and easy-to-manipulate online polls are, not the value of streetteams. Indeed, your admission that you rigged the poll - or let's say 'motivated fans to ensure they had their voices heard in the poll' - merely chips a little more away from the kudos of winning such a vote.


disconnectedin73 said...

Actually Simon, I completely disagree with you. These teams are not made up of random kids who are blindly sending out MySpace bulletins and voting for every poll out there, just to score some free swag. Fancorps street teams are made up of the most passionate fans of the bands who look for every opportunity to spread the word about their favorite band and did so long before the street team was formed.

We were not attempting to stack the votes or "rig" anything (we even told members that you can only vote once). We were simply letting the fans of these bands know about these polls and encouraging them to let their voice be heard!

Is signing up college kids to vote, informing them about Obama's platform and helping them find their assigned polling place any different?

Tony Edwards
Director - Sales & Marketing

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

Hi Tony

I think it might be overstating your case to try and compare your company with people who were organising Obama's votes - unless you're perhaps comparing Fancorps with ACORN?

The point about what you do, though, is that you change the 'electorate' for any given poll.

Let me use an example of the Today Programme Person of The Year poll which BBC Radio 4 used to run. This had a simple idea: fill the news-vacuum at the end of the year by finding out who the listnership admires.

Trouble is, the poll would get hijacked by organisations who wanted 'their' man or woman to win, and who would provide their members with details of the address or phone number to respond to, with the encouragement that they should vote.

So while the poll wasn't being 'rigged' in the sense of someone hacking the numbers, instead of discovering the preference of Today listeners, the poll was finding out which special-interest group was best at organising their supporters to vote in a poll for a radio programme they didn't even listen to.

You might be familiar with the reductio ad absurdum of this sort of situation: where MTV Europe finds Rick Astley running ahead as Greatest Artist Ever in its awards voting. It's a great joke, and a lot of fun. But it doesn't tell you very much about what MTV Europe viewers actually like.

And this is where what your company does deviates from those people who worked to register voters during the US elections - the people who were being signed up, and given instructions and directions on how to get to polling stations were American adults, who were part of the electorate. Had those vote organisers been going round Canada and Mexico encouraging residents of those countries to rush across the border and vote for Obama, there might have been something of an outcry.

Ultimately, Radio 4 decided to drop the Person of The Year poll because it no longer actually reflected the tastes of its audience.

And from the band's point of view, does it really do them any good to know they've won a poll of, say, Alternative Press readers if it turns out that, actually, it wasn't AP readers voting, but their established fan base?

disconnectedin73 said...


You make a lot of great points, however the one I was trying to drive home was that we were in no way rigging anything. We were simply letting the fans know where and how they can vote for their favorite artist.

As for the benefit that an artist sees in polls like these, it's obvious...EXPOSURE!

tony e

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

I understand what you're saying - and can see that you might disagree with the term "rigging".

But a reader's poll should be a poll of readers, not a poll in which non-readers are sent to vote on a website they don't normally visit.

If a fan of band X like X, and see on that there's a poll to find their favourite band, that's fine.

If fans of X are sent to to vote for X in the reader's poll, then the poll ceases to be of readers. It might still show the muscle of X's audience, but it doesn't show that readers of actually like X.

And, yes, it will win X some exposure. But if polls like this are routinely being won by bands who marshal fans rather than readers, doesn't that reduce their value? You're helping to create rotten boroughs, and that ultimately reduces the value of that exposure.

danbutt said...

I don't see why Tony Edwards should reject the term "rigging" - it's clearly what he's doing. The AP Reader's Poll is for the Readers of AP. The clue is in the name of the poll. He is encouraging people who are not readers of the AP to vote. The relevant meaning of "rig" here is "To manage or manipulate in some underhand or fraudulent manner". And that's what he's doing.

The point here is that this isn't costless. Lots of people get a lot of pleasure from these kind of polls when they're allowed to work properly - they provide interesting and useful information about the tastes and views of a particular community. Edwards and his ilk are just spoiling things - for the sake, as he says, of "EXPOSURE!" for his crappy acts - whilst disregarding the acts who actually deserve to do well in the poll in question. As Simon notes, quite how much "EXPOSURE!" one will actually get for rigging a poll is pretty limited, but regardless, the fact that it serves your ends doesn't justify you in doing it. You'd get "EXPOSURE!" by getting your street team to stencil "Forever The Sickest Kids" on Munch's Det Syke Barn, but it wouldn't make you any less of a social irritant.

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