COLUMN: When it comes to rigging poll, only skill, motivation lacking

Outcry over glitching poll misplaced, but understandable

We ran into a bit of a glitch last week with our online opinion poll when, for no apparent reason, it stopped recording ‘no’ votes. The ‘yeses,’ it appears, were registering just fine.

And it wasn’t just the weekly PAN Poll. Turns out, it was a Black Press-wide issue, resulting from a technical problem that, as the kids say, is above my pay grade.

Staff at another paper discovered the problem when they realized they were getting only five or six votes cast on any given poll, when the number was usually far higher.

Our poll numbers have been up and down, depending on how interested readers are in the week’s topic. But occasionally, one will be shared on social media among a group of people with a vested interest, and the number of votes will skyrocket – usually heavily skewed in one direction.

So when our most recent poll asking whether masks should be mandatory on transit – in our defence, we posted it the day before the new rule was announced – was leaning heavily to the yes side, it didn’t occur to us that anything out too of the ordinary was happening.

Then came the phone calls and emails – respectfully pointing out the problem and politely suggesting there might be some sort of malfunction at its root.

I’m kidding, of course.

Reaction in the comment section below the poll was swift and merciless.

“What a scam!”

“Rigged!”

“Fraud!”

“I call this poll bs”

“Another FAKE poll by the media”

Honestly, it’s a huge compliment that anyone out there believes I possess the skills to actually rig our poll. But I assure you, I do not.

Also lacking – any motivation to do it.

The results of our web polls aren’t used for any scientific purpose, nor do they help form any sort of public policy that I’m aware of. They’re intended only to offer an admittedly unscientific snapshot of where readers stand on a particular issue. They can’t do that if someone is tinkering with the numbers.

But I do understand where that sense of mistrust comes from.

More and more, we are surrounded by people with extreme political agendas – not in our own lives, necessarily, but certainly online – who will do almost anything, it seems, to “prove” their case or garner support for their point of view. This includes flat-out lying, cheating and, yes, manipulating data.

It can make it nearly impossible to know who or what to believe.

No question, there are people out there who will lie about literally anything – often with the sole purpose of influencing strangers’ viewpoints.

Our job, in reporting on any topic, includes presenting the perspectives of all involved parties. Sometimes people will be unavailable or they may choose not to speak with us, which is, of course, their right. But we don’t and will not deliberately silence anyone who has a stake in an issue – whether they’re an active participant or a member of the public who may be affected.

We take this responsibility seriously and that extends to accurately recording the votes registered on our web polls.

We weren’t able to do that last week, so the poll has been closed and we won’t post another until we’re satisfied that the problem has been resolved.

And that’s the truth.

Column

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