Have you ever wondered how useful or representative on-line opinion polls actually are? We have all seen them in on-line newspaper articles – like this one. A question found somewhere in the article calls for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and invites the reader to participate. Many of us have clicked ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on issues we feel passionate about and then promptly forgot about it. Polls are designed to attract readership through interaction. They help the reader feel part of it all – but how well do they represent real opinions? It’s a bit like reading your horoscope – it can be fun but can never be taken seriously.
For starters, such polls are restricted to the readership of the particular newspaper. Ok that’s one bias but there are more. One vote one person – no way! People “in the know” engage in multiple clicking – once from your computer, once from your laptop, once from your mobile phone, your iPad and so on. And well it’s just Christmas if you have more than one of these items at your disposal or multiple email accounts! In moments of system weakness you can sometimes vote multiple times from the one device. But there are even more sinister and unethical practices. Astroturfing is one of them. Voting is manipulated by paid agents employed to make sure certain view points are seen to represent the majority – something we should all be aware of in this digital age.
Should you believe anybody who uses these polls to support their case? I’ll leave you to decide but I know what I think.