Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Online Polls are Manipulated.

Heath Haussamen has an excellent News Blog called He is one of a few bloggers doing it full time and trying to make a living doing so. Any web site or blog thrives on traffic. The number of visitors to the site daily increases the value of ad revenue that can be generated by the site. If you want to keep people coming to your site on a daily basis you need content and you need to give them a reason to keep checking back.

Online opinion polls are a good way to do this. If someone is interested in the poll they will encourage others to go to the site and vote. Those interested will also check back daily to see whether their chosen candidate or issue is winning the poll. However these polls are easily manipulated. As long as people realize this and don't take the poll too seriously than maybe that does not matter. However on a political web site polls are often touted by candidates on their social media pages and web sites and even in speeches and literature. Those not familiar with online polls and how easy they are manipulated could believe the results.

Screen shot of poll

Heath Haussamen is currently running a poll on the Democratic Appeals Judge Race between Dennis W. Montoya and Linda Vanzi. Over night hundreds of votes were added to Dennis Montoya's numbers. The Same thing happened to State Auditor Hector Balderas when ran a poll on whether he was doing a good job. You could almost see the frustration and desperation on Hector Balderas face as he begged for votes on twitter and facebook and the no votes kept racking up by the hundreds on the poll.

In politics small things can sway close elections, remember the hesitation during a forum that cost Patricia Madrid a congressional election? In order to realize how easy these polls are to manipulate you only need to look at how they work.

The online polls are supposed to only allow you to vote once. They attempt to do this by using two features of a computer. They place a cookie on your computer (a small data file) which tells the poll that you have voted once you have done so. Now these cookies can be easily erased by software in the web browsers so as a backup the poll also records your I.P. address. This is a unique identifying number assigned to your computer when you log onto the internet. This number is assigned to you by your internet provider. When people use cable modems, DSL and other internet providers which are always on then the IP address stays the same most of the time. But if you use dial up, it changes every time you dial in to make a new connection. You can also change your IP address by using a proxy service which allows you to change your IP address to numerous generic IP addresses.

So if you want to manipulate an online poll you need to do the following. Vote in the poll, then refresh the web page and clear your cookies. Then its easiest to change your I.P. address if you use dial up. The easiest is if you use a wireless air card like Verizon. Simply disconnect from your wireless connection and reconnect. You will now have a new I.P. address which can be used to cast a new vote. Now this is time consuming but I set up a fake poll on and I was able to cast 2 votes a minute using my Verizon air card.

It was much longer and harder using Foxyproxy which is a I.P. Proxy service available for free as a firefox browser add on. The problem with using a proxy service was that the I.P. addresses available are limited to a few hundred so you can only cast a few hundred votes and it takes about 2 minutes per vote.

Changing your I.P. address using DSL and Cable modems is very hard to do and will only allow you to cast a few extra votes. As I have an IT background I understood how easy these polls are to manipulate but by testing these methods I was actually surprised at how easy and fast it really is. Using a wireless air card and getting used to the steps I could easily add 120 votes an hour to an online poll. Someone with programing background could create a script which could do the work for them and allow them to walk away from the computer and let it do the work for them.

I understand that the polls bring visitors to and that is the lifeblood of running this kind of business, but the political polls on this site are constantly being manipulated and it may be time to pull the plug. On the other hand Heath Haussamen has been open and honest about the non scientific nature of the polls and alerts his readers when obvious manipulation is at hand. However using the methods I described here if someone has a lot of time on their hands and is not as overt in manipulation of the poll they could do it without Heath being aware.



Katherine Guidry said...

Greg, thank you for this excellent information. It was clear and I tried it and your right...

Katherine Guidry

The Casual Vegan said...

Greg, I enjoy reading your blog after finding it one day while searching for the requirements to become a sheriff.

Your post makes manipulating polls actually sound very technically challenging and time consuming.

If you really want to manipulate a poll, it's easier if your willing to spend a couple of dollars. Amazon has an artificial, artificial intelligence network called Mechanical Turk where you pay people a penny to click a link for you. Each person comes with their own IP.

The website takes 10 minutes to sign up for and set up. You pay 1.5 pennies per vote. So, if you wanted 1000 votes that would be about 15 bucks.

Mano said...

thank you for your post...
but is there any way to manipulate multiple online poll....
WITHOUT paying of course.....ROFL