Bots May Be Trumping Online Polls

October 24, 2016

Politicians are fond of saying that the only poll that matters is the one on election day.

That may be especially true this year, especially when it comes to online polls that, like anything in the digital, connected world, are vulnerable to mischief.

The mischief is enabled by bots – hundreds to many thousands of computers under the control of an attacker that are more typically used to send out spam, create Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and commit various kinds of fraud – but in this case are used to skew poll results. They can make it look like public opinion views one candidate as the winner of a debate when the real vote would show the other candidate did.

Rami Essaid, cofounder and CEO of Distil Networks, said following the first debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, a number of online spot polls showed Trump the decisive winner, while respondents to more credible polls such as CNN/ORC showed Clinton the winner by 62 percent to 27 percent.

“After the second debate, a CNN poll showed that 12% of the respondents gave the win to Trump, 14% to Clinton, and 70% to Gary Johnson (the Libertarian candidate),” Essaid said. “And Johnson didn’t even participate. So when you look at these examples, the influence of bots is quite clear.

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