Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It’s not so ‘Bersih’ after all COMMENT By WONG CHUN WAI

INTERNET polls are really just a way to engage the reader with the aim of taking a quick temperature reading of your audience, in the words of American political analyst John Harwood.

It’s the cyber equivalent of asking the room for a show of hands on a certain question, but it can also be manipulated.

Most ordinary netizens do not take such polls seriously but the political stake players certainly do, and they are often the ones who would hack and organise such manipulations to get the numbers they want.

Harwood, a New York Times journalist, said the CNBC once organised a debate.

After the debate, the television station put up a website poll asking readers who had won the debate.

Soon, supporters of Ron Paul, the Republican Congressman, who had served notice he was running in the US presidential race, were leading the polls at 75% within hours.

It soon dawned on CNBC that the poll was the target of a campaign. So, the station pulled it down.

The purpose of the poll was ruined and as Harwood wrote, “it was no longer an honest show of hands”.

“That certainly wasn’t our intention and certainly didn’t serve our readers,’’ he wrote, adding that a well-organised “few” could throw the results of a system meant to reflect the sentiments of “the many”.

That was what happened to The Star Online poll survey on Monday.

Obviously, print journalists adopt a more cautious approach against those in the new media who see politics differently.

An online poll on the proposed Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9 asked respondents for their opinion on whether the illegal rally should be cancelled or be allowed to go on.

In less than a day, it drew more than a million responses, which caused the online team to suspect that the results were being manipulated.

Typically, the online polls attract an average of about 30,000 responses over several days.

The Star Online’s unique visitors number about 400,000 a day.

The initial examination showed that the The Star Online site logs recorded up to a million votes to the poll page from just one IP address.

Acting on the belief that the poll results were tainted, the online editor took it down just before noon on Tuesday.

In short, the supporters of the Opposition-initiated rally, Bersih 2.0, were not so clean after all. Even desperate.

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