Joseph and the BBC's amazing technicolor nightmare vote

 by Martin Belam, 27 May 2007

I see that the BBC has got itself into a bit of a pickle over the online voting for the school choir competition that accompanies the current 'talent' search programme "Any Dream Will Do".


Often when these kind of issues occurred with an online vote it would happen because the television or radio production team had consulted with the new media department about their plans too late in the day.

After all, if you are not au fait with the mechanism of the internet, it isn't entirely unreasonable to think that you could easily detect repeat voting. However, unlike telephony, where the user's phone number acts as a unique key, without registration there is no unique key that ties a particular individual to a particular computer when casting a vote.

Which isn't to say that there are not mechanisms for detecting the clumsier attempts to manipulate a votes result.

I remember one vote my BBC team ran about sports personalities. On the very last day of the vote one of them surged from obscurity into the top three. A quick shimmy through the logfiles revealed that all of their new found support had come from one IP block geographically based near the star's hometown.

The golden rule, which I spent a lot of time establishing and discussing with BBC Editorial Policy at the time, was not to use online voting without registration if there was a substantial prize on offer.

In the Joseph musical case the BBC seems to have got caught in a terrible online vote "perfect storm", between a reality TV gameshow audience, pushy showbiz parents, and inter-school rivalry. And local newspapers. And MPs.

There is one fundamental difference between this case and the recent phone scams though.

In the premium line quiz scandals, it has been all of the broadcasters, including the BBC, defrauding and cheating on their audience.

With online voting it is the exact opposite - the audience trying to cheat the broadcaster.

The fall-out in this kind of case still reflects back on the BBC though - the BBC News coverage of the story quotes one person as saying:

My respect for the BBC has plummeted beyond belief!

His faith in the sense of fair play amongst school choirs in the UK seems to have remained unshaken.

I must confess that I am a little surprised, given the recent furore over telephone voting scandals, that the press has not turned their attention to exposing dodgy online votes earlier.

Whilst I'm at it, I would also think that competitions where a winner is picked by a broadcaster at random from a bunch of emails might be fair game for investigation.

And has anyone ever won anything by writing in to one of those promotions that get to claim "no purchase necessary" by saying they'll open a packet for you to see if you win if you simply take the time to send them a note?

1 Comment

Isn't it the case generally though, with phone voting, that repeat voting from the same number actually counts, as the premium rate phoneline rules say that if you've paid for a vote, you have to get a vote (even if you've had ten votes already).

By contrast internet voting is free, and so you're more open to vote stuffing, which you can then try and prevent.

I tend to think it's a bit poor for the BBC to do any kind of premium rate phone voting. Presumably in some cases it's the production companies making the money, and in other cases the money just covers the 'administration', but in both cases the phone companies make a great deal of money, and competitions are skewed by who's prepared to rack up the biggest phone bill.

Keep up to date on my new blog