Details of the abuse surfaced on a "media watchdog" show on the same network called "Media Watch". The audience-voted winner of the show Stacy McCleary later faced allegations that she stuffed the online ballot by forging email addresses, and encouraging others to do the same.
Stacy's videos were consistently voted lowly by the judges, who ranked her film last four times out of six. However, the audience vote was exactly the opposite, her films winning by margins of more votes than the others put together.
The Media Watch transcripts (available here and here) claim that statistically, she had a 1% chance of winning the vote by the margin that she did. Several choice quotes from the transcripts are below:
Stacey's film about the Nullarbor was the prime example.
Those shocking judges placed it last, with the lowest score on record.
But the public placed it first, giving Stacey nearly 90 per cent of the votes.
Stranger still, Stacey was soooo popular that five times as many people
voted that week.
1318 against 257 the week before.
The second transcript shows some email she had supposed to have sent to friends, encouraging them to stuff the vote:
You can vote using as many bogus email addresses as you
like. Let?s pump so much traffic through the site we bring it
P.S. If you feel like sending this on to your distribution list feel
free - I want to get more votes than just the dear old blue
rinses who feel sorry for the girl who came last!!
(Stacey email 26/5/00)
The ABC (the network airing the show) disclaimed liability instantly, saying "It is impossible to prove or disprove whether a particular
person has submitted multiple votes.
(ABC Online email to Media Watch 28/8/00)". The matter was then investigated further by the ABC, eventually finding that the voting system was abused, and forcing Stacy to hand back the prizes she won on the show (a video camera and a film course).
The kuro5hin (and Slashdot) community have not been strangers to this type of vote-stuffing, of course (see the recent article "Linux and the media" for an example). The regular poll topics on Slashdot and kuro5hin are about as statistically valid as a horoscope you read in the comics section of a newspaper (the poll attached to this article being no exception :))
The ABC are justifiably disappointed at this outcome, and are not likely to use the Internet as a way of interacting with viewers in the near future.
This is a loss, as I feel that the Internet greatly enhances a TV show, adding an element of interactivity instead of just sitting down to the scripted-6-months-in-advance series.
Additionally, this has implications over the perenneal standby of government everywhere - online voting. The same problems apply to electing a government as to selecting the winner of the TV show (well, it's a matter of scale).
Is fair voting online possible, or is it just a pipe dream? What safeguards would you implement to ensure that ballots held online are fair and free from interference?
RISKS Digest Vol 21 Issue 6, published 25 September 2000. Available online at http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/21.06.html.