Feeds

TV election debate 'worm' graph found to undermine democracy

Could easily be used to manipulate voting

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

The use of so-called "worm" approval graphs in televised election debates can strongly affect the way in which viewers will vote, opening up the possibility of the worm being used unscrupulously to undermine democracy.

The warning on the possible subversive uses of the worm comes from psychology profs in the UK following a study in which they sought to measure the worm's effects on viewers' thinking. The worm is generated by a small group of undecided voters selected by the broadcaster - sometimes as few as 12 - who generate it using handsets to signify approval or disapproval of what a politician is saying.

"Apart from the concerns about unintentional bias, there is real possibility that the worm could be used to systematically bias the outcome of the election," says Professor Jeff Bowers of Bristol uni.

"Given the small sample of undecided voters that generate the worm, just one or two persons could influence the worm by voting for one candidate no matter what. The system is cute, but open to abuse."

Bowers and his colleagues measured the worm's effects by having their study participants watch the third UK election debate, onto which a doctored worm was superimposed. They say that "successfully convinced the majority of the viewers taking part in the study that they were watching an authentic audience response to the live debate".

In the debate seen by one group of 75, the worm was manipulated to favour Gordon Brown: in the other the worm loved Nick Clegg. Apparently this had such an effect on the study participants that it would have translated into significant gains for them on election day.

"We were amazed by the size of the effect that our worms had on viewers' opinions of who won the debate, and even on their choice of preferred Prime Minister. If our results were to generalise to the population at large, a biased worm in a debate shortly before polling day could determine the result of a close election," says Professor Colin Davis of Royal Holloway.

"The squiggly worm is certainly interesting to watch — sometimes more interesting than the candidates — but there's a real danger that we can get sucked in by the worm and allow it to sway, or even determine, our opinion. Results like ours force us to reconsider to what extent 'our' opinions really are our own."

You can read full details of the study here courtesy of the journal PLoS One. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
APPLE FAILS to ditch class action suit over ebook PRICE-FIX fiasco
Do not pass go, do cough (up to) $840m in damages
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.