Boaty McBoatface and six other internet polls that have sailed adrift

Those behind the latest online poll to be hijacked should have known better

Max Benwell
Monday 21 March 2016 17:13
Online polls that got out of hand

Unless it’s a Gaza-bound flotilla or another Titanic anniversary, it’s rare for boats to make headlines. But that’s what has just happened with a new £200 million ship destined for the Antarctic.

After an online poll was launched by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to find a name for their boat, Boaty McBoatface has “sailed” to the top of the leaderboard with more than 28,000 votes. Trailing behind in second place is Henry Worsley with around 3,000 votes.

The name Boaty McBoatface was put forward by James Hand, a former BBC Radio Jersey presenter. He has since explained the thinking behind his submission, and apologised for it. “When you submit [the boat names], you have to submit a reason and I actually put ‘it’s a brilliant name’, which I stand by,” he said. “I’ve tweeted the organisers and said I’m terribly sorry – a lot of people have replied to me and said that’s the most British thing ever.”

James Hand on Boaty McBoatface

Unfortunately, even if Boaty McBoatface wins it may not find itself emblazoned on the side of the ship. According to the rules of the competition, the final decision lies with the NERC. But the people should be listened to – it would be great marketing at the very least.

Also, the NERC have no-one else to blame but themselves. As the following incidents demonstrate, they should have known better.

1. Roland Bunce wins Next's modelling competition

Roland Bunce never wanted to be a catwalk model, which was probably a wise career move for the 24-year-old. But in 2012 he was nominated to be a model for the clothing brand Next. Bunce ended up receiving 66,000 votes and was the clear winner. He soon relinquished his title however, and gave up on the chance of being the face of Next, after he received too many hateful messages and threats online.

2. A school for the hearing impaired is chosen to host a Taylor Swift concert

Taylor Swift removed her catalogue from Spotify last year

If Taylor Swift could perform at any school, where would you like it to be? If you were asked this, it’s unlikely that your first answer would be “a school for the deaf” (unless you had a particular attatchment to one). But after a poll posing the same question was brought to the attention of Reddit and 4Chan users in 2012, they made sure a Boston school for the deaf and hard of hearing came out top. In the end it was taken off the list, but still benefitted hugely – it received $50,000 from Swift and the poll’s sponsors, and all of the school’s children were given free tickets to Swift's next local show.

3. Mountain Dew asks the internet to name its new drink

Poor Mountain Dew. All they wanted to do was find a name for their new drink. So they asked people online. Then they had to stop asking, and shut the whole thing down, because the top results included “Hitler did nothing wrong,”, “Gushing Granny”, the slightly more colloquial “Gushin’ Granny”, and “Fapple”.

4. Nancy Upton wins American Apparel 'XL' competition

Credit: Shannon Skloss

When American Apparel released a new XL line for women in 2011, it looked online for someone to model them. “We're looking for fresh faces (and curvaceous bods) to fill these babies out,” it wrote. “If you think you've got what it takes to be the next XLent model, send us photos of you and your junk to back it up.” The winner turned out to be one Nancy Upton, who had taken offence at the wording of the competition. Because of the nature of her photos, which completely lampooned American Apparel (you can all of them here), the company angrily disqualified her and gave the prize to the runner-up.

5. Justin Bieber and North Korea

Is anybody out there? Justin Bieber's Believe is 14th at the US box office

If you’ve been swept up in the recent Justin Bieber comeback it may be hard to believe now, but back when the singer was a fresh-faced, less apologetic teen, lots of people really hated him. This came to a head in 2010 when an unofficial poll asked people which country they wanted Bieber to perform in the most. The internet's response, with the help of mischief-making 4Chan users, was a resounding “North Korea”.

6.An endangered whale gets a ridiculous name

A humpack whale at Cape Cod. Picture Philip Hoare

In 2007 Greenpeace thought it was a good idea to ask people what they thought an endangered humpback whale should be called. This was a deadly serious issue – the Japanese Fisheries Agency was planning to kill 50 of the whales while they swam in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Voters acted accordingly, giving Mr Splashy Pants 70 per cent of the vote.

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