Daily Mail pollOn Friday I was alerted by one of the people I follow on Twitter to a poll which asked “Should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue?“.

I responded by voting Yes, and sent a tweet which said:

I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q

Comments on Twitter about the Daily Mail pollMy tweet was then echoed (‘retweeted’) around the Twitterverse by a number of people including lucy3point0 and ccsnjf with others picking up on my posts and adding their own commentary (as shown). Other communities picked up on this for, as you can see, over 90% of people voting on the Daily Mail Web site felt that the NHS should allow gipsies to jump the queue!

I was intriguing to see what the final total was (it reached 96% at one point and I grabbed the screen image shown above – to use in a forthcoming talk – with the total of 94%). But on Saturday I found that allow the question was included in a list of Daily Mail polls, clicking on the link took me to another page on the Daily Mail Web site, and not to the results of the poll. (Ironically another discussion which took place on Twitter on Friday discussed URL shorteners and the possible dangers of a lack of long-term persistency of URL shortening services – in this case the short URL for the Daily Mail poll is still available – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q – but the page it points to – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/index.html?pollId=1011506 – is not the gipsies poll.

The reason I captured the screen was to make use of this example in a forthcoming workshop session I am facilitating on “Using the Social Web to Maximise Access to your Resources“. I’ll make the point that Twitter can be used to engage a community through a viral campaign for (or against) a particular idea. I’ve an interest, therefore, in how this poll went viral, and also in the ethics of commenting on the poll and attempting to influence the votes.

This story has been picked up on blogs.journalism.co.uk with an article on Twitterers claim victory over loaded Daily Mail gypsy poll. Here I find that :

Brighton-based senior lecturer in experimental psychology Dr Sam Hutton contacted Journalism.co.uk today to reveal that there was also an email campaign among UK-based psychologists who, as part of their jobs, take questionnaire neutrality seriously.

Was this the start of the viral campaign? Or did a number of people become aware of the poll and mention it on Twitter independently of each other? And why did this become viral whereas, for example, a poll on Should immigrants be forced to respect British culture? has failed to attract a similar level of interest, despite covering a similar topic which is liable to inflame liberals? Do successful viral campaigns need to attract the attention of ‘hubs’ to use a concept from Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which Martin Weller mentions in a post, also published on Friday, on “Connections-versus outputs“.

And what of the ethical aspects from those of us who are engaged in observing, commenting on and analysing the way in which the Social Web is shaping our society?

You should note that my initial tweet did not suggest how people should vote:

I’ve just been to the Daily Mail Web site for the first time ever. And so should you – http://bit.ly/w4b6Q

The wording I used was also intended to intrigue people; anyone who knows me or has read my tweets or blog posts over time will know that I am not in sympathy with the Daily Mail’s views. The tweet was also brief, and so allowed other to easily retweet it i.e. append “RT @briankelly” to the front and add heir own commentary, such as @lucy3point0’s “Laugh or cry?“.

However I should disclose that I voted three times in the poll. Despite responding to a suggestion that “If you disable cookies you and refresh the page and vote gain to your heart’s content” by saying that we should keep the high moral ground over the Daily Mail I did vote on two additional occasions (using the Flock and Opera browsers) – as I wanted to see if I could get the error message which a couple of people had encountered. In retrospect I should have ensured that these two votes cancelled each other out.

And finally I’m also linking to, citing and including a screen image of a number of people who have engaged in the debate. Should this be done? Am I infringing copyright (indeed, am I infringing the Daily Mail’s copyright in including a screen image taken from their Web site)?

I am taking a risk management approach to this. Rather than seeking written permission (which may be time-consuming) I have made a judgement as to whether the people I have mentioned are likely to be concerned. I suspect not. And inclusion of the poll from the Daily Mail Web site? This may be a risk, although I might claim fair use. But won’t it be a greater risk for the Daily Mail if they ask me to remove? If I do get a letter from their solictors I don’t intend to fight them. But everyone will know they have done this.

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]