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Globe considers changes following manipulation of Fish Lake mining poll

The Globe and Mail is considering changes to its online polls after people noticed strange voting patterns in a poll on the Prosperity Mine proposal that would destroy Fish Lake.

While communities editor Jennifer MacMillan stops short of saying the 'yes' side may have cheated in the poll, she acknowledges in a blog post that the Globe and Mail's online voting system can be easily manipulated.

“There's good reason why online polls (at or any website) should be taken with a grain of salt,” MacMillan wrote. “With a few simple clicks, anyone can vote multiple times on most web polls.”

When someone votes in a Globe poll, their computer is tagged with a cookie, and the website prevents them from voting a second time on the same poll, she said.

“However, readers who are determined to vote multiple times can find a way. They can clear their computer's cookies with a few clicks and vote again and again. Some tech-savvy readers also use a script, which can automatically clear cookies and cast many votes.”

The Globe had a similar problem with people voting on the popularity of comments, so the paper made it mandatory for people to log-in before they voted on whether comments should move up or down below a story, and only allowed them to vote once, she said.

MacMillan asked readers for feedback on whether online polls should require a log-in as well.

Comments on the post so far appear mainly supportive of making such a change.

Even if the change is made, MacMillan concluded, the Globe's polls should not be considered accurate. “There's always the possibility one reader might create several accounts to cast more than one vote,” she wrote.

It's good the Globe is looking at making changes, said Susan Smitten a filmmaker and executive director of the group Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs. “It's a little something that the 'yes' side may not have necessarily been playing fair ball.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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