Move Over Click Fraud, Vote Fraud Is Here!

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sem1.jpgToday’s New Hampshire primary got me thinking about voting in general and online voting specifically. In the wake of the Florida vote recount of 2000, there was much talk about the movement towards electronic voting as the solution that would solve such problems. But I am beginning to think that online voting will add new problems we never considered without the proper paper trial we have with our current voting policies.

I recently read about Subvert and Profit, a social networking black market which lets advertisers increase their rank on sites like Digg.com, StumbleUpon and YouTube by paying anonymous online users to vote. Advertisers pay $1 per vote and social networking users receive 50 cents for each vote.

I actually respect the company for their honesty. They’re not trying to sell me a 300 calorie muffin, claiming it’s healthy because it contains not trans fat. They call like it is – and even refer to their company as a black market in the first sentence on the homepage. But I digress.

In addition to Subvert and Profit, there are undoubtedly hundreds of operations who are doing the same things. I am sure there are lots of PR agencies who regularly Digg stories they place about their clients (disclosure: as a publicist, I did this once when a client sent me the link). And the PR account executive who Digg’s her client’s story is no different from Subvert and Profit because they both have a financial incentive to see their client’s story on the front page of Digg.com.

I think the bigger issue here today, which is one that I have addressed in the past, relates to the general effectiveness of social networking sites. While every social media consultant is preaching transparency, we have the least transparent process for voting.

For websites like Digg.com and StumbleUpon, where ranking is part of each company’s mission, vote fraud is potentially a much bigger headache than click fraud is for Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.

Do you think there is a solution for this? How can we create a social voting process that is both fair and transparent? Is it even possible?

Having recently read about the 50th anniversary of Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders”, I can’t helping thinking what Vance would have thought of all this. What do you think?

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