Rigged NPR Online Poll Shows Disinformation Campaign
The battle for the hearts and minds of Americans has officially hit the internet. The recently rigged NPR poll (Obama vs. Fox) demonstrates how a small skirmish over an online poll is symptomatic of a much larger pandemic of propaganda and is far more widespread than commonly known.
Raw Story recently detailed how various conservative websites have rigged (also known as gamed, or more commonly online as ‘freeped’) yet another online political poll. This most recent freeped poll was on NPR asking “In White House vs. Fox News War Of Words, Who Gets Your Vote?”
The results might surprise you. A resounding 78% of the votes were cast in favor of supporting Fox News over Barack Obama.
Seems a bit strange for a poll on the supposedly liberal NPR on the supposedly liberal internet to generate such a tilted result, doesn’t it? As suspected the poll was rigged by various conservative websites, such as Newsbusters, Republican National Committe on Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, “Patriots” sites, and most of all, the Free Republic. This is not the first time this has happened either. There has been a strong pattern of freeping polls done for many years, at least dating back to the pro-Bush ‘fixing’ of a Der Spiegel poll in 2004.
Another curiously tilted online poll that was freeped can be found Vote.com, which asked “[Should the nation] Pass Obama’s Health Care Reform?”
Yes 7% 1974 votes
No 93% 27389 votes
Another freeped poll suggested that 82% of Americans want President Obama to release his birth certificate. Although a majority of self-identifying Republicans either believe Obama was foreign born or are not sure, 77% believe he was born in the United States.
The methods of freeping vary. Many online polls simply have no limit to the number of times someone can vote. Thus, if conservative websites can get 4000 people to vote 10 times each, that generates 40,000 votes. Some websites limit each user to one vote, but this is easily overcome by clearing cookies or using proxies to mask a users url. This rigging is not limited to online polling either, and is common on discussion boards, telephone calls, and mailings in order to simulate greater grassroots support, and is thus a form of astroturfing. Another way in which rigging of online results can take place is through software, such as GIYUS’ Megaphone. According to the Times Online in 2006:
“5,000 members of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) have downloaded special “megaphone” software that alerts them to anti-Israeli chatrooms or internet polls to enable them to post contrary viewpoints.”
The Democratic Underground often encourages members to counter the freeping of polls. Although some would say this is freeping in and of itself, the DU appears to have no original calls to artificially inflate numbers of polls except in cases where it has already taken place by conservative websites. Recent examples include gay marriage in Maine, abortion rights, stem-cell research, racism, the NAACP, and the Armed Forces There was even one mention of the GOP directly asking for freeping:
HELENA – The state Republican Party asked supporters Friday to influence a newspaper’s Internet poll that posed a question about Sen. Conrad Burns and lobbyist Jack Abramoff, hoping to sway the unscientific survey’s results.
Although nearly any regular user of the internet knows not to put any stock in an unscientific online poll, the results have a discernable effect on public perception. In the last example mentioned, the Billings Gazette reported that “Most voters are not concerned … about Sen. Conrad Burns’ (R-MT) relationship with indicted D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff.” This of course was not the case, and Burns was ousted in the 2006 election by Jon Tester mainly because of Conrad’s ties to the Jack Abramoff, the GOP lobbyist and Bush activist currently in prison for defrauding American Indians and corruption.
The key to this disinformation campaign by right wing websites is clearly to artificially inflate their numbers to simulate the conclusion that their viewpoints are more popular than they actually are. When someone doesn’t understand the inherently flawed nature of online polls, they could very easily take the results literally. This has also been noted in the controversy around the recent 912 Tea Party protest in Washington D.C., where conservative websites continue to use an attendance figure ranging from 1.2 to 2 million, despite one of the groups central to organizing it only stating 300,000, and the most objective and reliable figures putting the number at around 75,000.
If real journalism is to survive the digital age, accurate reporting is essential. This means never taking the results of an online poll seriously, since they are not representative of society as a whole and can so easily be manipulated by propagandists. This NPR poll has demonstrated the deliberate campaign of disinformation by right wing websites in no uncertain terms.