People power

By Megan McArdle

The Mediabistro bot-scandal has made the New York Times Freakonomics blog. (Congratulations, Kriston, Catherine!). Steven Dubner concludes:

1. The stakes don’t have to be very high for people to cheat.

2. When no punishment exists for cheating, it’s pretty damn appealing.

3. We have been accused of stuffing a ballot box or two ourselves, although there were no bots involved (that I know of).

4. Can you please point me in the direction of the Diebold folks who rigged those machines? I would love to interview them



Question, though: did the cheating necessarily change the results? For a category like "Hottest DC Media Type", which dangerously approaches baseball statistics, the voting is probably going to end up telling us not, who is hottest, but who has the most friends who will vote for them. Don't get me wrong--Kriston and Catherine are very, very hot. One might argue that the results of the contest accidentally mirrored the actual truth of the matter. But there's no independent reason to believe that this will generally be true.

They won the bot contest for the same reason they probably would have won a straight vote: they had the most people trying to help them win. The real lesson here is that it's a good idea to be the kind of charming, hot person who easily acquires friends with powerful blogs. Or something.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/08/people-power/1783/