This article was published recently by Matthew Webster who writes a weekly newsletter called 'Ask Webster (A guide to Digital Life)' which is well worth subscribing to at bit.ly/2uUjxrF
This piece relates to the accuracy of opinion polls/petitions and just happens to be Brexit-related. It is not intended to be political in any way and does not relate to my own Brexit persuasions be they 'In', 'Out' or 'Shake it all about'.
The Government's online petition site includes a petition to 'Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU'. It has over six million signatures, which is impressive, although it turns out that 72,000 of them are fictitious. They were planted by a Digital Marketing firm in Manchester, costing them £22 and a few hours work.
How is this possible? First, one of their technical wizards wrote a little programme that created unique submissions and completed the email conformation procedure. Then, they used a free online service to generate random but genuine postcodes and a random name generator. They spent £12 setting up a new email mailbox and £10 on a month’s access to thousands of what are called 'proxy IP' addresses. This made it appear that the entries were coming from different computers. They left this system to run over the weekend, at the end of which 72,000 fake names were added to the petition.
To show how easy it was they then went public with the stunt and, in so doing, cast doubt on this and any other online polls. Read about it at bit.ly/2UqWbco. If one small firm in Manchester can do this, imagine what a determined organisation with time and resources could do.
Given the simplicity of the deceit, it is hard to believe that they were the only ones trying to skew the results of the poll. Remember to treat all online polling with caution, even if you do agree with the results!