15 Polls Hijacked by the Internet


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 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


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 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.'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's Sexiest Geek of 2009.

A version of this post originally appeared in 2013.

Putu Sayoga, Getty Images
Bali Is Suspending Mobile Web Service for Its Sacred Day of Silence
Putu Sayoga, Getty Images
Putu Sayoga, Getty Images

Nyepi, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the Saka new year, is a sacred tradition on the Indonesian island of Bali. It's a time for silence and mindful meditation, practices that might pose a challenge to a plugged-in generation of smartphone users. To ensure the day passes with as few distractions as possible, religious and civilian leaders in Bali have asked telecommunications companies to shut off their data for 24 hours, AP reports.

From 6 a.m. on Saturday, March 17 until 6 a.m. on Sunday, March 18, Bali residents will be unable to access online news, social media, or any other form of web content on their phones. “Let’s rest a day, free from the internet to feel the calm of the mind,” Gusti Ngurah Sudiana, head of the Indonesian Hinduism Society, said according to AP.

Shutting off mobile data for a full day may sound extreme, but it's just one way the island will respectfully observe the holiday. Throughout Nyepi, Balinese shops and the island's sole airport are closed, and television programs and radio broadcasts are paused. Officials first asked cell phone companies to suspend their data last year, but this is the first year they agreed to comply with the request. An exception will be made for hotels, hospitals, banks, and other vital public services.

Nyepi is followed by Ngembak Geni, a day that also encourages self-introspection. But unlike Nyepi, Ngembak Geni is a day when people are allowed to socialize, even if it is online.

[h/t AP]

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Find Out If Your Passwords Have Been Stolen With This Free Service

In the modern world, data breaches happen with startling regularity. They can happen to giant credit monitoring firms, social networks, or the fast food restaurant down the street. In late 2017, a security research firm found 1.4 billion stolen usernames and passwords floating around unencrypted on the Dark Web, giving even the most unsophisticated hackers a shot at your online accounts. In many cases, you may not realize that your account has been compromised.

As CNET reports, a security tool called Pwned Passwords can help you figure out with a simple search which of your passwords has already been leaked. Created by a regional director at Microsoft named Troy Hunt in August 2017, the free site is designed to make it as easy as possible to check the security of your online accounts. It's as simple as entering your password into the search bar. In February 2018, Hunt updated his original site to include passwords from more major breaches. The database now features half a billion passwords that have been leaked as part of hacks on sites like MySpace, LinkedIn, DropBox, and Gawker. Some are sourced from breaches you may not have even heard of, but which still contained your information.

"Data breaches are rampant and many people don't appreciate the scale or frequency with which they occur," Hunt writes on the site. When he analyzes the user credentials leaked after big hacks like the one on Adobe in 2013, he finds that he will keep seeing "same accounts exposed over and over again, often with the same passwords." And once that password is leaked once, that puts all the other accounts that you use that password for at risk, too.

A screenshot of the site asks 'have i been pwned?' Below, the word 'password' is typed into the search bar.
Pwned Password

So if you're one of those people who uses the same password for multiple accounts—we know, it's hard to remember a different password for every website you ever visit—now would be a good time to see whether that password has ever been part of a data breach. Pwned Password will tell you if your password has been revealed as part of any major data breaches, and which ones. (CNET advises against searching your current passwords, since revealing that info to third parties is never a good idea, but checking old passwords you no longer use is OK.)

I, for one, searched a standard password I've been using for a steady rotation of online accounts since high school, and found out it has been spotted 135 different times as part of data breaches. Oh boy. (Presumably, those might not all be related to my accounts, instead coming from other people out there in the world who base their passwords off tidbits from The Fairly OddParents, but who knows.)

If, like mine, your passwords show up on Pwned Passwords, you should update them as soon as possible. (Here are some good tips on coming up with secure ones. Maybe don't use "password.") This would also be a good time to get yourself a password manager, like LastPass or 1Password.

The latter service actually has a Pwned Password integration so that you can check each of the passwords stored in your 1Password with Pwned Password. If you use LastPass, the service's security checkup can also search for potential data breaches in your roster, but it looks for leaked usernames, not passwords.

[h/t CNET]


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