An online poll on the news portal www.independent.com.mt asking people to give their preference as to who should be the next leader of the Nationalist Party was manipulated during the night between Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
The online poll was rigged by an automated script, otherwise known as a bot, created to submit multiple votes.
This is the first ever such experienced by this portal, which goes to show how hot the campaign for PN leader is turning out to be.
The two main contenders for the post, Adrian Delia and Chris Said stood neck to neck until the evening on Monday with just under five thousand votes each. However, during the early hours of yesterday morning the poll was manipulated by over thirty thousand votes in a few seconds, giving around twenty thousand instant votes to Chris Said.
Followers of the news portal called in to voice their frustration at the sudden leap in the percentage that saw Chris Said going from 33% to 69% in the span of a few hours.
An investigation was immediately prompted by The Malta Independent who commissioned Deloitte Digital, the webmasters of The Independent news portal, to take stock of the situation. It resulted that in a few minutes around thirty thousand clicks were generated from just two IP addresses coming from a residence not a company.
Analysis of the data showed that while a few hundred votes were placed on Adrian Delia, Frank Portelli and Alex Perici Calascione, the bulk was given to Chris Said who instantly leapt in the poll. Experts in the field told this newsroom that it is physically impossible to generate so much traction in such a short period and the use of a bot must have been employed to do the job.
The Malta Independent immediately took action and blocked the two IP addresses from participating further in the poll and redressed the situation.
A police report was filed with the cyber crime unit and all the information related to the bot attack was handed over to the police.
It is not yet established who was behind the hack and the newspaper does not have the means to identify the hacker.
Chris Said's statement
In a statement this morning, PN Leadership candidate Chris Said said: The Malta Independent article implies that I orchestrated the online poll to take an advantage over the other PN Leadership contenders. This story had only one interest, to imply something that isnt true in order to put me in a bad light.
In a Leadership election, there would be thousands of active and enthusiastic supporters. With the presence of online polls, the enthusiasm of some would manifest in the repeat use of the same polls. It is certain that the best poll will be the election.
Political experience has taught me not to waste time debating in puerile arguments with those who have a direct interest to create a story that isnt there in order to obscure. I will not waste time accusing one person or another of conflict of interest.
My strength comes from the councillors, members and activists. Hidden agendas and cliques were never my friend.
The Malta Independent denies that there was any interest in shedding bad light on Chris Said and made no such accusations in the story. The matter had already been placed in the hands of the police.