We are saddened to report that we’ve been hacked; our contest poll has been compromised; and two finalists have been disqualified for cheating.
As you are likely aware, this last Monday we incorporated an online poll to give our audience the opportunity to pick the winner for the June Caption Contest. By early Wednesday we were quite suspicious of the results as there was a huge spike in votes cast. Granted, we like to think we’re popular but 298,625!; that's almost ten times the size of our audience.
We immediately contacted the poll hosting company Blogflux and confirmed that security had been breached. Not only were multiple votes coming from the same IP address, it was apparent that it was being done with a hacker’s automated bot script. It was also apparent that two of our contestants were involved: Doug Halsam and Rodd Simonsen.
We confronted Halsam and Simonsen. Both confessed, apologized and directly withdrew from the contest. See apologies below.
Lesson? There's a nice little case study here. All along we've held that the mechanism for vetting quality on the Net is dysfunctional. We've argued that it's a popularity contest that can be readily compromised.
So, are we through with Net polls? No. The techs at Blogflux have assured us that this vulnerability can and will be securely closed. In the future, we'll probably use them sparingly. We won't be using them where cash prizes are involved.
Well, it's back to the drawing board literally. Our panel of independent judges will reconvene and vet June's winner the old-fashioned way. We will diligently revisit the qualifications and assess each of the finalists independently and carefully. We hope to announce a winner early next week.
Thank you for your patience.
From: Doug Haslam
Sent: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 3:10 PM
To: Amanda Chapel
Subject: Concession Speech
I am officially bowing out of the photo caption contest. I fully acknowledge that there was some scripting going on on my behalf, which I did not discourage. That’s still cheating. The resulting “bot war” ruined the poll and for my part I apologize to Strumpette, to the other contestants and to all the people who voted legitimately.
Why did I do this? I have no excuse but here’s what happened: Early in the contest, I suspected there was a bot in play for one of the other contestants. The way I saw to find out was to engage similarly and flush it out, prize money be damned. My suspicions were proved pretty quickly in the swift response. And as you saw the poll results were totally compromised growing geometrically from that point forward.
For the record, I began the contest with a genuine get-out-the-vote call to my friends on Twitter, Facebook, and several email groups, including one for a non-profit group to which I would donate a chunk of the hoped-for prize money. I eked out a modest—and honest—early lead. On Monday afternoon, I noticed “Red Dye” had shot up in the voting suddenly, and I voiced my concern on Twitter (http://twitter.com/DougH/statuses/120367772). A friend responded asking if I needed a bot for myself. I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t say no either. Very quickly I was winning again, and obviously I knew why. Then “Red Dye” came back with a vengeance, erasing any doubt that there was a bot behind those votes.
At that point, Monday evening, I had already disqualified myself in my mind, realized I could not keep any prize money. But I did let it continue until Wednesday afternoon when Strumpette stopped the voting with “Red Dye” nearly 200,000 “votes” in the lead.
Lesson learned. In retrospect, I should have called this to the attention of Strumpette immediately. Again, please accept my apology.
From: Rodd Simonsen
Sent: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 3:43 PM
To: 'Amanda Chapel'
Subject: RE: Strumpette Poll
I am very pleased to have been chosen as a finalist in your Photo Caption Contest. I regretfully decline and remove myself from the contest. I have participated unfairly in the contest and do not feel that any prize would be appropriate, even if fair judging could be determined. I apologize for any inconveniences this may have caused. I am also very sorry to the other contestants, and wish the best of luck to all that remain in the running for this contest.
Fresh on the heals of the Harpers Magazine sting operation where PR firm APCO Worldwide was seduced into courting Turkmenistan, one of central Asia's most repressive countries... now we've got one for real! A leading expert in international relations says that the Taliban is getting PR counsel. Can you guess who's their firm? Yikes!
"The now-ousted Taliban regime had once banned all forms of modern media — even photographs — but the militant Islamist group is now recording messages on video which it posts on the Internet. Some of the same Taliban leaders who ordered televisions smashed on the grounds that modern media is a satanic innovation, are now giving their phone numbers to select journalists and routinely assigning cameramen to record roadside bomb attacks. Last month, for example, the Taliban filmed a graduation ceremony for suicide bombers in which a Taliban commander urged scores of young men to launch attacks on four Western countries. The footage was then given to American television network ABC to guarantee maximum exposure in the West."
And their new communications strategy is working! "It's happening quite quickly and they are getting a big payoff for their efforts," McAuthur said.
- PR agencies take on controversial clients just like lawyers represent controversial public figures. We may not be under oath like an attorney, but we are believers in the First Amendment.
- Even large, respected companies have dirty laundry lists. It’s a sad reflection on the state of business in the US, but laying the blame on that company’s external service providers isn’t the answer. This is what PR folks do. We create and maintain positive perceptions for clients.
- You’re holding us to your own personal standards. If you were a gun control advocate, you’d have a similar reaction if we signed Heckler & Koch. If you were a staunch environmentalist, you’d gag if we signed General Electric. Hill & Knowlton represents the Bin Laden family. Does the fact that GE makes energy-saving light bulbs for American households absolve them for polluting the river and poisoning children?
Add to that, big international conglomerates are not moored necessarily to any national affiliation. Money is money. And if one firm won't take it, another firm will.
TAKE THE POLL
Directly below is a poll. Who do you think might be the Taliban's new PR Firm? Guess. (Note: Poll closed 6/30/07.)
The firms we offer here are the most likely suspects. They either have an international capability or can quickly fashion a network of firms. Also, it is in our opinion that the firms here would not necessarily be dissuaded by a suspension of human rights, the occasional beheading or the total annihilation of Israel. If you think another firm should be considered, please add it in the comments.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
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