AVERETTE: A column on election meddling

Published 5:49 pm Saturday, August 5, 2017

wanted to start this column with a joke about election meddling, but I’ll resist the temptation.

But I do think it would be good to clear the air about an election that had little consequence nationally but definitely meant a lot to people locally. I can prove that by the dozen of phone calls and messages I received Friday.

Sometime on Thursday, the Times-Journal Gridiron cover contest was hacked.

I know that seems like such a silly thing to write about, but since I’ve heard from a lot of parents, I thought I should write about what we know and what we plan to do in the future.

I first noticed there was an issue Thursday during the city council meetings. Those can get a little long sometimes, so I had logged into Facebook to see where the contest stood.

All week long, the same duo had led and looked like they were headed for a sure victory. But starting Thursday afternoon, I noticed hundreds of votes starting coming in from countries all over the world: Ivory Coast, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and others, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of. And a lot of the profiles weren’t in English or even used the Roman alphabet.

I knew something funny was going on, but my hope was that the contest would end Friday without any controversy. However, that wasn’t the case. The votes from overseas kept coming in overnight, and by Friday morning there was a new leader.

I want to be clear that in no way am I implying the students in the contest had anything to do with what happened.

Like the Joker said in a recent Batman movie, some people just like to see the world burn. Anyone could have tried to wreak havoc and game the system.

Evidently, there are apps online that allow you to buy Facebook likes for a bargain. I found one that sold 500 likes for just $8.

I spent a good portion of Friday fielding calls about what we were going to do about the “rigged” or “hacked” contest. To be honest, there was no clear answer. I knew whatever we did would foremost have to be fair to the students who unfortunately were involved in something beyond their control.

However, as the day went on Friday, the votes continued to tighten back up. By the end of the day, the football and cheerleader that had led by hundreds of votes all week were able to eke out a 77 vote victory.

I’ve monitored the contest all week long. Part of the reason we do it on Facebook is to invite people who like the cover photos to follow our page, which we post links to stories and photos. I’m convinced that the winners did not have any help from like buying apps.

We apologize for the confusion and will work hard to prevent anything like this from happening again. That might mean changes to the contest in the future or at least more clear rules about voting.

Our football magazine will publish Friday, Aug. 25.