Vote Spinners

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.  We would run a contest in which we got people to submit essays or short video about a “deserving dad” and we would crowd-source the voting and selection process so that people could choose the most popular ones. Some of the first entries we got were heartwarming, including this video from the near by town somewhat unfortunately called Bumpass.

Then came the vultures.  There is apparently a significant collection of people who spend a lot of their time on online contests, which i don’t have a problem with.  But there is a subsection of this group which cheats.  The easiest way to cheat is to buy votes; they start at $10 per hundred.  The top vote-getting winning entrant got fewer than 350 votes.  Which means you could have secured a $150 hammock for $35, if you did not get caught.

Hawina and i late at Corbs sleuthing thru the internet

Hawina and i late at Corbs sleuthing thru the internet

But we did catch a bunch of cheaters: multiple entrants by the same person, tips from upset participants about cheaters, votes from Facebook accounts which had zero friends, many votes for single sentence essays whose authors did not bother to promote their essays on their own FB page. A number of our cheaters were notorious enough to have warnings about them published by other companies running contests, usually after they disqualified them.  Facebook is apparently very slow to close profiles of even the most blatant abusers, reminiscent of their position on sexual assault friendly humor,

buy votes bannerAnd there are “legit” vote exchange services as well, where money is not changed hands but people agree to vote up other members context entries.  This is where it started getting a bit hazy.

Then we started getting tips.  The first few were quite useful.  They told us about known cheaters who were on our site.  The information given by one woman about three of the top four vote getters was sufficient to prove that they were all the same person and so disqualify them.

And then it got even more fuzzy.  Relatives of participants contacted the contest organizers with tips on people who were cheating.  Then some people who we did not think were cheating were implicated.  Then we started getting tips about cheaters from people who were implicated, but their information seemed legit/verifiable.

In the end we were pretty convinced the people we eliminated were trying to scam us and only a couple of the winners were questionable.

[To be clear, anyone can be a “deserving dad” and win our contest, including for example a 5 year old girl.  Just not cheaters.]

How we determined the winners of the Dozen Dads competition

We learned a lot about online contests in selecting these winners, much of it distressing.  In the end we disqualified 7 of the top ranked contestants for what we believe was inappropriately gaming the contest.  The method we used was somewhat complex and included judgement calls on our part.  This is the outline of our methodology:

  • Anyone who got more than a few votes from facebook profiles which had 0 friends were determined to be harvesting votes from fake accounts and were disqualified.

  • Anyone who had been identified online as cheating in other online contests by contest sponsors, and who also entered our contest, was disqualified.

  • Participants who had combinations of the following criteria were disqualified: extremely short essays/hundreds of votes/no mention of Twin Oaks Hammocks or the Dozen Dads contest on their FB wall during our contest/really new FB accounts with very little personal information on them.

  • Contestants who made more than one entry under different names were disqualified.

We granted hammocks to all 3 contestants who had entered videos because this showed significant effort.

We were aware that some of the winners kneww each other and voted for each other as they have in various other contests.  We also know that some winners are involved in what we have deemed “acceptable” vote exchange systems.

All decisions are final. Contestants who have concerns about this selection process are encouraged to write to: dozendads@twinoaks.org

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

2 responses to “Vote Spinners”

  1. pnc says :

    I’m sorry that you folks had to go through such a trying experience to find out how corrupt the “vote 4 me in the online contest” business is. If it’s any consolation, the most massive, systemic fraud I ever personally witnessed was in a contest that had been outsourced by Intel Corporation to a “professional public relations firm”. Once I saw what was going on, I exchanged a series of emails with their CEO which concluded with him telling me “I see what you are saying, but none of the internal mechanisms that we rely on were triggered”.

    I encourage people who do online contests to avoid any that require voting and to limit their entries to contests that have judges.

  2. anissa ljanta says :

    Most bloggers rely on the ‘leave a comment and the winner will be chosen by random.org’ method. Sometimes on my blog I’ll ask folks to leave a meaningful comment (or reply to a specific question – a good free market research opportunity) and I am clear about how I choose the winner. Maybe I pick my ten favourite comments and let random.org do the rest.
    I followed your dozen dads contest with great interest. Sorry you had the sleaze cheaters out but from that pic of you and hawina you look like you are in your element. I could just about hear you sorting it out together from here!
    SEO stuff is also fraught with spin. One famous NZ company that had the contract before me for one of my contracts invented ‘likes’ for them too. Empty facebook page after empty Facebook page.
    Thanks for outlining your experience to help out the rest of us contemplating such things. x

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