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15 Polls Hijacked by the Internet

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To find a name for their new $288 million polar research ship, the UK's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) recently launched an online poll. The poll ends on April 16, and if the current results hold, the vessel will be given the name "Boaty McBoatface." While it doesn't quite have the majesty of, say, "RMS Queen Elizabeth," "Boaty McBoatface" is a good example of what one can expect from an Internet poll.

To honor "Boaty McBoatface," here are 15 other polls that went awry once people on the Internet found a way to steer them off track into outrageous (and sometimes insensitive) results.

1. Shea Stadium Gets Rick Rolled

When the New York Mets' marketing department put the team's new eighth inning theme song up for a fan vote in 2008, they didn't expect a slightly obscure Rick Astley hit from the '80s to overtake stadium staples like "Sweet Caroline" or "Livin' on a Prayer." But due mostly to the virality of "Never Gonna Give You Up" and the bizarre Internet phenomenon of Rick Rolling (tricking unsuspecting Web surfers to click on the song's goofy music video), the song netted more than 5 million votes. That's more than eight times the capacity of Shea Stadium.

Fans were pretty quick to give the song up. According to Mets spokesman Jay Horowitz, when the song was played on Opening Day it was met with a chorus of boos. He told ABC News, "It wasn't a good day for Rick."

2. Taylor Swift Almost Performs For a School of the Deaf

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When the Taylor Swift camp set up a contest to perform at the U.S. school that earned the most votes, they probably didn't anticipate Boston's Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing winning. But Reddit and 4Chan users encouraged their respective communities to game the contest, and the Horace Mann School rocketed to the top of the poll.

The country starlet and her contest sponsors blocked the school from the poll because of the tampering (see: several other entries on this list), but Swift and company donated a cool $50,000 to the school. The singer also ponied up free tickets for her next local show for students. 

3. Justin Bieber Almost Gets Sent to North Korea

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A restriction-less 2010 poll set up by Faxo.com to pick a destination for Justin Bieber's "My World" tour saw North Korea steal the top spot, climbing from 24th to 1st in a matter of two days. Since Kim Jong-Il put the kibosh on Western music in North Korea, instituted rigid travel regulations, and made the Internet off-limits for most of the country, the result was head-scratching at best.

That is, at least until 4Chan pranksters claimed credit for the joke, rigging the poll to send the pop star packing for communist North Korea. The country piled up more than 650,000 votes, toppling second-place Israel (also a prank option) by 30,000. For obvious reasons, the Biebs stayed put stateside

4. Pitbull Plays at the Most Remote Walmart in the U.S. 

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A Facebook poll launched in the summer of 2012 to sponsor a Pitbull concert at the Walmart franchise that earned the most Likes on the page. When the two-man brain trust behind comedy website Something Awful—David Thorpe and Jon Hendren—caught wind of the contest, they hijacked the poll to make sure the rapper got sent to the most remote Walmart store in the U.S.: Kodiak, Alaska.

Pitbull accepted his chilly fate with poise, inviting Hendren and Thorpe along to the frigid north. Thorpe took the hip-hop star up on his offer and met Pitbull at the show, who laughed off the joke by telling the prankster, "Keep bullsh***ing. Next thing you know we'll be on the moon."

5. Austin, Texas Almost Names Its Garbage Dump After Limp Bizkit's Frontman

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In 2011, citizens of the Lone Star state capital with a penchant for and a distaste for 90s nu metal voted to rechristen the city's Solid Waste Department the "Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts," after the frontman of rap-rockers Limp Bizkit. The submission, offered by 24-year-old local Kyle Hentges, racked up more than 27,000 more votes than second-place option "Department of Neat and Clean."

Durst bestowed his blessing on the name change, but Austin city officials didn't: The dump was boringly renamed "Austin Resource Recovery." 

6. William Shatner Tries Naming Pluto's Moons

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Earlier this year, William Shatner used his clout to boldly name what no man had named before—two newly discovered moons orbiting ex-planet Pluto. The actor famous for portraying Captain James Tiberius Kirk hopped on social media to lobby for the names Romulus and Vulcan, two planets from the Star Trek mythos, in a SETI Institute poll to name the moons.

Romulus was quickly discarded, since it was already taken by an asteroid satellite, but Vulcan, Spock's homeworld, won the SETI Institute's Pluto Rocks! naming poll. Shatner's proposed names fit the bill for SETI's naming requirements: Vulcan borrows from Greek mythology as well as its Star Trek roots. Still, SETI elected to go with Styx and Kerberos instead

7. Norwegian Airline Almost Gets a Metal Mascot

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Heavy metal fans jumped on a 2012 poll created by Norwegian Air airline to adopt a "tailfin hero" (fancy-speak for "mascot") to emblazon on its fleet of planes. While the logo was meant to honor a deceased hero from Norwegian history, metalheads rocked the vote to move previously-unnominated Euronymous (born Oystein Aarseth)—erstwhile guitarist for Mayhem—to the top of the poll. 

The black metal guitarist shredded the competition, leading the pack of short-list candidates before his remaining family members asked the airline to remove Aarseth from the contest. Probably for good reason—a notorious musician who was associated with church burnings in the 1990s doesn't exactly scream "friendly corporate logo."

8. Greenpeace Names a Tagged Whale "Mr. Splashy Pants"

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When Greenpeace tagged a pod of humpbacks migrating to the South Pacific in 2007, the nonprofit held a competition to name one of the whales. Most names were stone-faced serious: Aurora, Libertad, and Aiko were all finalists. But then the Internet found out that one of the options was "Mister Splashy Pants," and it was all downhill from there.

Mostly thanks to Reddit, "Mister Splashy Pants" won a whopping 78 percent of the vote ("Humphrey" finished in a distant second). In an article declaring the winner, which affectionately refers to the whale as "The Splashy-Panted One," Greenpeace stated, "He might have a great name, but he and his friends are still in danger." 

9. Mountain Dew Lets the Internet Name a New Flavor

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File this one under reasons to not give Internet communities the power to name products. When Mountain Dew tapped its Internet followers to help christen a green apple-flavored drink, the disastrously short-lived 2012 "Dub the Dew" promotion was pretty quickly shut down when the suggestions that rolled in proved to be incredibly offensive.

Once again, the 4Chan message board ran rampant over an online poll, proffering names both harmless ("Soda," "Sierra Mist," and "Soylent Green") and insensitive (at the time the poll closed, the leader was "Hitler did nothing wrong"). Mountain Dew bailed on the promotion and issued a profuse apology to its fanbase, conceding that the company "lost to the Internet."

10. Vegemite Coins iSnack 2.0

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When Kraft Foods decided to rebrand a concoction of Australian staple Vegemite mixed with cream cheese, the company probably shouldn't have gone with the name suggested in a poll by an anonymous Aussie web developer who admitted having his tongue firmly in cheek when he dubbed the product "iSnack 2.0."  

Vegemite manufacturers said the name was chosen "for its personal call to action and clear identification of a new and different Vegemite," and Kraft moved more than 3 million jars of Vegemite iSnack 2.0—but four days after the announcement, the company cracked under consumer pressure and dropped the name. Later in 2009, the product was rebranded "Vegemite Cheesybite."

11. Rory Fitzpatrick Gets Voted Into the NHL All Star Game

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The defender for the Vancouver Canucks didn't exactly have a superstar stat line in 2007: After missing a month of play, Fitzpatrick only had one assist when All Star voting opened. But what the career journeyman—over 10 seasons, he had only netted 9 goals—didn't bank on was 22-year-old Steve Schmid of upstate New York, who campaigned for Fitzpatrick's All Star Candidacy.

The campaign took off. A Vancouver computer programmer developed a Firefox browser plug-in he called the "Rory Vote-O-Matic" to let Fitz fans fill out ballots automatically, and Schmid launched VoteForRory.com. The not-so-All-Star snagged more than 285,000 write-in votes, which placed him behind Scott Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom

12. Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf Wins Beautiful People Poll

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For one shining moment in 1998, an angry drunken dwarf was the most beautiful person in the world. Hank, a character on shock jock Howard Stern's radio show, was the beneficiary of a chain email campaign (this was 1998, after all) to seize the top spot in People magazine's "People Online" poll for the most beautiful person in the world.

Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf staved off Leonardo DiCaprio at the height of Titanic hysteria as well as Madonna, with 230,000 write-in votes to his name. Second place belonged to wrestler Ric Flair; the rest of the list steered clear of curveballs, save for They Might Be Giants singer John Linnell at number nine in the rankings. 

13. Roland Bunce Almost Becomes New Next Model


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Roland Bunce, a 24-year-old computer science graduate hailing from Belfast, almost inadvertently stole Next's "Make Me a Model 2011" competition from more than 5000 entrants. The contest's grand prize? A 2000 euro check, a photo shoot, and a meeting with modeling agency Storm. 

After a Facebook fan page (made by pranksters) popped up and the unlikely model stormed into first place with more than 66,000 votes, Bunce dropped out of the competition, citing unwanted attention and threats on his personal Facebook profile as his reasons.

14. 4Chan Founder Wins Time 100 Poll

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Sure, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Oprah Winfrey are kind of influential folks, but 4Chan founder Christopher Poole (who goes by the alias moot in Internet circles) bested 99 other movers and shakers—including the aforementioned trio—to win 2009's Time 100 Poll. Poole scored an average influence rating of 90 out of a possible 100; in comparison, Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim only managed a 47.

Time.com's managing editor, Josh Tyrangiel, made a statement about the out-of-left-field victory, saying, "I would remind anyone who doubts the result that this is an Internet poll. Doubting the results is kind of the point."

15. Game Developer Almost Places in Victoria's Secret Contest 

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Maybe Victoria's secret is that she's secretly programming Half-Life 3? When the lingerie chain hosted a contest where participants could post pictures in the hopes of winning a three-day "pampering getaway" to New York City for two, the Internet boosted portly Valve (the company behind critical smash hits Portal and Half-Life) co-founder Gabe Newell to number two on the contest chart.

The only reason Newell couldn't seize the top spot (at least before Victoria's Secret kicked the top two contestants out of the competition) was because 4Chan's moot was already occupying it. Yes, that's the same moot who pulled some strings to win the both the Time 100 and Wired.com's Sexiest Geek of 2009.

A version of this post originally appeared in 2013.

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Before Bitcoin: The Rise and Fall of Flooz E-Currency
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In the late 1990s, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Spencer Waxman was in Morocco on holiday when he heard an Arabic slang term for money—flooz—that stuck with him. In the dot-com boom taking place back in the United States, URLs with obscure etymology were popular. When Waxman and partner Robert Levitan decided to co-found a novel way of disrupting the online commerce industry, calling it Flooz.com was almost a foregone conclusion.

What Levitan and Waxman envisioned was a virtual gift certificate that would drive business to participating online retailers, give consumers some sense of security over their private information, and make shopping for stubbornly gift-resistant recipients easy. Rather than merely offering cyber currency, this was a service with purpose.

Unfortunately, it was also one that was doomed to fail.

A screen capture of Flooz.com
Flooz.com

Non-cash currency has been with us since the Chinese used cowry shells to sort out debt for goods and services more than 3000 years ago. In the 1960s, credit cards became an alluring alternative to saving and carrying paper bills. When online retailing exploded in the 1990s, it was only natural that startups would begin to explore virtual payment methods.

At the time, digital transactions were perceived by many consumers to be a near-guarantee of identity theft. Handing a card to a vendor in a closed-loop retail environment was one thing, but the thought of hackers seizing their information once it was entered into the borderless environment of the internet kept many away from online shopping.

As it turns out, that paranoia would turn out to be justified in our current climate of constant data breaches. It was also good for businesses hoping to turn their apprehension over credit card security into a monetized solution. Flooz.com debuted in 1999, just one year after another currency-based URL, Beanz.com, had garnered press. Beanz were a kind of earned points system, with approved transactions gifting customers with redeemable gift vouchers. Flooz took a different approach: Customers would sign up to Flooz.com and purchase gift certificates for specific retailers, which they could then use themselves or pass along to a gift recipient via email.

For businesses, it was a way of driving traffic to sites; for consumers, it was a way to keep credit card transactions limited to one vendor; for Flooz.com, being the intermediary meant taking a 15 to 20 percent cut of completed transactions on the selected retail sites, which ranged from Godiva Chocolates to Barnes & Noble and Tower Records.

To help Flooz.com cut through online marketing noise, Levitan enlisted actress Whoopi Goldberg to be their spokesperson. In exchange for company shares and Flooz.com money, Goldberg led an $8 million ad campaign for radio, television, and print that extolled the benefits of using Flooz.com.

Whether it was Goldberg’s pitch or the concept itself, Flooz.com met with a receptive audience. The company debuted in the fall of 1999, and had opened 125,000 accounts by January 2000. That year, roughly $25 million in Flooz.com money was purchased and used. (In a nod to the impenetrable vocabulary of the internet at the time, the media loved to point out that Beanz could be used to purchase Flooz.)

Bolstered by the attention and early success, Flooz.com was eventually able to raise $35 million in venture capital. Consumers could meet their gifting obligations by emailing a code to their gift recipient without having to waste time shopping. For a time, it appeared Flooz.com would become a leading method of payment for online transactions.

Actress and Flooz.com spokesperson Whoopi Goldberg is photographed during a public appearance
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But it didn’t take long for the seams in the Flooz.com model to show. While gifting vouchers to family and friends was convenient for the gifter, the giftee was stuck with a very limited number of vendors that took Flooz.com as payment. If Amazon, for example, had a deal on a DVD or book that Barnes & Noble didn’t, Flooz users were out of luck. Shopping for a bargain wasn’t possible.

The second and most crippling detail was one Flooz.com was forced to make in order to strike deals with vendors. The company guaranteed its transactions, meaning that it would make good on orders even if Flooz dollars had been purchased via fraudulent means. By the summer of 2001, that commitment became a tipping point. Agents from the FBI informed Levitan that they suspected a ring of Russian hackers had purchased $300,000 worth of Flooz in order to launder funds from stolen credit cards.

This created a paralyzing cash flow problem: As their credit card processor withheld funds until Flooz.com could secure the transaction, people were still busy redeeming Flooz dollars they had already spent. Retailers then looked for Flooz.com to reimburse them. Suddenly, customers trying to pay with Flooz were greeted with error messages that the site was down.

Those issues, coupled with the fact that corporate clients had already started to move away from gifting employees with Flooz dollars, forced Flooz.com to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August 2001. Court papers cited almost $14 million in liability. (Beanz.com was also a casualty of the dot-com bust, when participating retailers processing the points steadily went out of business.)

Levitan rebounded, founding the Pando file sharing network and selling it to Microsoft in 2011 for $11 million. Meanwhile, Flooz.com remains a barely-remembered footnote in e-currency, though it would be hard to chart the rise of digital funds like Bitcoin without it. Like with so many other good ideas, timing is everything.

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What Could the Repeal of Net Neutrality Mean for Internet Users?
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What could the repeal of net neutrality mean for the average American internet user?

Zouhair Belkoura:

The imminent repeal of net neutrality could have implications for Americans beyond the Internet’s stratification, increased costs to consumers, and hindered access to content for all. Net neutrality’s repeal is a threat to the Internet’s democracy—the greatest information equalizer of our time.

With net neutrality’s repeal, ISPs could be selective about the content and pricing packages they make available. Portugal is a good example of what a country looks like without net neutrality

What people may not realize is that a repeal of net neutrality would also give ISPs the ability to throttle people’s Internet traffic. Customers won’t likely have visibility into what traffic is being throttled, and it could substantially slow down people’s Internet connections.

What happens when this type of friction is introduced to the system? The Internet—the greatest collective trove of information in the world—could gradually be starved. People who experience slower Internet speeds may get frustrated and stop seeking out their favorite sites. People may also lose the ability to make choices about the content they want to see and the knowledge they seek.

Inflated pricing, less access to knowledge, and slower connections aren’t the only impact a net neutrality repeal might have. People’s personal privacy and corporations’ security may suffer, too. Many people use virtual private networks to protect their privacy. VPNs keep people’s Internet browsing activities invisible to their ISPs and others who may track them. They also help them obscure their location and encrypt online transactions to keep personal data secure. When people have the privacy that VPNs afford, they can access information freely without worrying about being watched, judged, or having their browsing activity bought and sold by third-party advertisers.

Virtual private networks are also a vital tool for businesses that want to keep their company data private and secure. Employees are often required by their employers to connect to a VPN whenever they are offsite and working remotely.

Even the best VPNs can slow down individuals' Internet connections, because they create an encrypted tunnel to protect and secure personal data. If people want to protect their personal privacy or company’s security with a VPN [they] also must contend with ISP throttling; it’s conceivable that net neutrality’s repeal could undermine people’s freedom to protect their online safety. It could also render the protection a VPN offers to individuals and companies obsolete.

Speed has always been a defining characteristic of the Internet’s accessibility and its power. Net neutrality’s repeal promises to subvert this trait. It would compromise both people's and companies’ ability to secure their personal data and keep their browsing and purchasing activities private. When people don’t have privacy, they can’t feel safe. When they don’t feel safe, they can’t live freely. That’s not a world anyone, let alone Americans, want to live in.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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