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Springer Spaniel Sunset by Jenna Keefer

Weekly poll victim of “astroturfing”


Online activists attack, then send an educational message

The weekly poll at the Wellsville Sun was hijacked and had go back to zero. The reason appears to be activists who use common apps to creat the poll outcome that they want. In this case it appeared to be pro-choice activists who applied the voodoo to the poll. One of which was nice enough to send me an email to let me know that I had left the back door open.

When trying to keep the votes legit, the poll does not allow multiple votes based on both the web browser and IP address signatures. In this case the little box you must check to include the IP address signature as a measure against multi-voting wasn’t selected. That vulnerability made casting hundreds of votes per hour possible, wildly skewing the vote.

Because our readers are everywhere and clearly care about the poll questions credibility they sent this:

“Your polls are easily prone to astroturfing. I would know, I just had a battle with what appeared to be two other anonymous users (based on the math of vote counts and timing) and we all added about 200 votes in the span of 10 minutes. Find a poll widget that locks votes to IP address and this would eliminate 98% of the issue, minus people who use VPNs and rotate their IP. I would disregard this poll’s results as they will be wildly skewed. I have stopped but the other users who figured out the exploit are still going. (If you open a private browser, vote, close browser, you can repeat the process indefinitely) With that in mind, the polls taken in the past with this particular service (Opinion Stage) should be looked at with a grain of salt, as they too were prone to attack.

Sorry Andrew, but I figured you should know!”

I agree 100%, I should know and thank you to whoever that guardian angel is who took the time to come clean and offer an education.

When starting the weekly poll as part of the the program, Senior Managing Editor John Anderson told me that web bots and trolls would undermine the results.

This must be a good question because it attracted the interest of multiple online activists. The question stands and we will be monitoring our additional defenses and re-calibrating if necessary.

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