UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Twitterers Subvert Daily Mail’s Racist Poll

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 Jun 2009

Daily Mail pollOn Friday I was alerted by one of the people I follow on Twitter to a poll which asked “Should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue?“.

I responded by voting Yes, and sent a tweet which said:

I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you –

Comments on Twitter about the Daily Mail pollMy tweet was then echoed (‘retweeted’) around the Twitterverse by a number of people including lucy3point0 and ccsnjf with others picking up on my posts and adding their own commentary (as shown). Other communities picked up on this for, as you can see, over 90% of people voting on the Daily Mail Web site felt that the NHS should allow gipsies to jump the queue!

I was intriguing to see what the final total was (it reached 96% at one point and I grabbed the screen image shown above – to use in a forthcoming talk – with the total of 94%). But on Saturday I found that allow the question was included in a list of Daily Mail polls, clicking on the link took me to another page on the Daily Mail Web site, and not to the results of the poll. (Ironically another discussion which took place on Twitter on Friday discussed URL shorteners and the possible dangers of a lack of long-term persistency of URL shortening services – in this case the short URL for the Daily Mail poll is still available – – but the page it points to – – is not the gipsies poll.

The reason I captured the screen was to make use of this example in a forthcoming workshop session I am facilitating on “Using the Social Web to Maximise Access to your Resources“. I’ll make the point that Twitter can be used to engage a community through a viral campaign for (or against) a particular idea. I’ve an interest, therefore, in how this poll went viral, and also in the ethics of commenting on the poll and attempting to influence the votes.

This story has been picked up on with an article on Twitterers claim victory over loaded Daily Mail gypsy poll. Here I find that :

Brighton-based senior lecturer in experimental psychology Dr Sam Hutton contacted today to reveal that there was also an email campaign among UK-based psychologists who, as part of their jobs, take questionnaire neutrality seriously.

Was this the start of the viral campaign? Or did a number of people become aware of the poll and mention it on Twitter independently of each other? And why did this become viral whereas, for example, a poll on Should immigrants be forced to respect British culture? has failed to attract a similar level of interest, despite covering a similar topic which is liable to inflame liberals? Do successful viral campaigns need to attract the attention of ‘hubs’ to use a concept from Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which Martin Weller mentions in a post, also published on Friday, on “Connections-versus outputs“.

And what of the ethical aspects from those of us who are engaged in observing, commenting on and analysing the way in which the Social Web is shaping our society?

You should note that my initial tweet did not suggest how people should vote:

I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you –

The wording I used was also intended to intrigue people; anyone who knows me or has read my tweets or blog posts over time will know that I am not in sympathy with the Daily Mail’s views. The tweet was also brief, and so allowed other to easily retweet it i.e. append “RT @briankelly” to the front and add heir own commentary, such as @lucy3point0’s “Laugh or cry?“.

However I should disclose that I voted three times in the poll. Despite responding to a suggestion that “If you disable cookies you and refresh the page and vote gain to your heart’s content” by saying that we should keep the high moral ground over the Daily Mail I did vote on two additional occasions (using the Flock and Opera browsers) – as I wanted to see if I could get the error message which a couple of people had encountered. In retrospect I should have ensured that these two votes cancelled each other out.

And finally I’m also linking to, citing and including a screen image of a number of people who have engaged in the debate. Should this be done? Am I infringing copyright (indeed, am I infringing the Daily Mail’s copyright in including a screen image taken from their Web site)?

I am taking a risk management approach to this. Rather than seeking written permission (which may be time-consuming) I have made a judgement as to whether the people I have mentioned are likely to be concerned. I suspect not. And inclusion of the poll from the Daily Mail Web site? This may be a risk, although I might claim fair use. But won’t it be a greater risk for the Daily Mail if they ask me to remove? If I do get a letter from their solictors I don’t intend to fight them. But everyone will know they have done this.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]


12 Responses to “Twitterers Subvert Daily Mail’s Racist Poll”

  1. ggw_bach said

    the whole spread of ideas online is a fascinating one. What takes, what doesn’t take, how fast it spreads … there is a mix of psychology and technology at play. Personally, if it is ever deciphered and understood, it will be manipulated no end, but at present, it is a black box which everyone is trying to tap into. We are at the point in culture and the web where it has become an ‘Ideas War’ – those that can spread and meme themselves the fastest win the attention of millions instantaneously. But then again, maybe it has always been so; that information has been used to control and combat; only that it is so much more accelerated now; and visible and trackable. Exciting times; and glad that you played a small in this latest event!


  2. AM_Doherty said

    While I’ve not been able to locate it, I did wonder if Google Cache might have a copy of the content of the screens you may have taken. This could alleviate your copyright problems, let the DM fight Google over it.

    We are so often reminding younger internet users that they need to remember everything they type, share and publish will probably never go away, the DM must now have learned this, and at the same time learned a new way to make a poll-posing-as-news completely backfire.

  3. More than happy to mirror the image for you :-)

    Both servers are based in the US and I believe, under the fair use doctorine of US copyright law, you’d be covered as you are clearly parodying the poll itself.

    To be honest, looking at the Daily Mail’s T&Cs, you’re free to use “extracts” from their site for non-commercial purposes. However (and how 1990s is this?!), you’re not allowed to link to any page on their site “without obtaining our prior written consent” :-D

  4. Frank Norman said

    I remember another incident last year when a Christian organisation ran a poll trying to persuade Heinz to withdraw a certain advert that featured a gay kiss. The poll was brought to the attention of users of a gay social networking site and there was a massive campaign to subvert it. Halfway through the poll organisers twigged what was happening and they reversed the sense of the question so that suddenly NO became YES and vice versa! Farcical.

    I think the message is that such populist polls are a heap of sh*te and should be given no credence.

  5. Emma said

    I got that Error message too, yesterday … and thought that it was set up so that you could only click “No”. Was glad to see though, that people had been able to vote “Yes”; maybe it was disabled before I got to it.

    As you’ve also said; wonderful example of a loaded question for a question design session!

  6. Billy said

    The re-use of the short url makes me think of ‘all publicity is good publicity’. It’s the next evolution of linkbaiting, generating dozens (hundreds?) of negative links to your site and then removing the controversial content. A boost for the seo strategy…

  7. AM_Doherty said

    I wonder if they even have the infrastructure to respond (possibly even by mail) to every written request to create a web link to their site. “Dear Sir or Madam…”

    Using a URL shortening service means that you’re linking to a service that is linking to them. We wouldn’t want to break their T’s & C’s now would we? :-)

  8. Josh said

    Just to remind you, that it wasn’t just Twitter. While I’m a huge fan and avid user of Twitter, we must keep perspective and not neglect other areas or over-celebrate Twitter as a comms tool!

    See stats for referrers over a total time.

  9. @Josh Thanks for that reminder. This blog is about Web 2.0 and will focus on that area. But you are correct to remind me (and the readers) that many other communication and dissemination channels are likely to have been used.

  10. Josh said

    … I agree with Web 2.0 – which is a bit more than Twitter :)

  11. Sam Saunders said

    My own involvement followed a post in a (music) web forum – the members of which joined in the fun. I did wonder whether the additional hits had positive implications for The Mail’s advertising revenue? I then lost the urge to try subverting other polls (some of which are so crazy that “no” and “yes” are equally unacceptable).

  12. […] recently described how Twitterers Subvert[ed] Daily Mail’s Racist Poll. For me that provided a fascinating example of how Twitter can be used by activists to support a […]

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