The internet is the most amazing tool for bringing people together that has ever existed. The ability to communicate Globally with almost all of humanity brings untold possibilities to every aspect of life, and it can be used for an unlimited amount of purposes. Since the early days of the World Wide Web businesses, institutions and individuals have taken advantage of the growing number of people using it to tap into the group-mind of our species, often with unexpected results, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the internet competitions that have produced surprising and occasionally shocking results.
Asking for the input of the entire World is bound to lead to trouble sometimes, and these are just a few of the online polls that went disastrously wrong, but we’ll start off our list with a great example of why asking for our collective opinion on anything can often lead to exactly the opposite reaction we were looking for, and even though it wasn’t strictly speaking a competition, it’s a perfect start for our top ten internet competitions that went wrong.
#10 – #MyNYPD
In April 2014 NYPD News, the official twitter account for New York’s finest asked Twitter users for their photos taken with police officers, in order to drum up some feel-good positivity about New York’s law enforcement services and with the promise that the best photos would be featured on NYPD’s Facebook page, but the plan back-fired in spectacular fashion almost immediately. A few people tweeted happy selfies taken with smiling police men and women, before an avalanche of less favorable pictures flooded in, mainly displaying alleged police misconduct or downright violent behavior. Anyone with a grudge aganst the NYPD or the police in general took the opportunity to send in a controversial snap, sending the #MyNYPD hashtag to the top trending position on Twitter. The Washington Post called it a ‘Troll-Fest of Epic Proportions’, while the NYPD stuck to calling it ‘an open dialogue good for the city’, until the fuss finally died down after a cringe-filled week of attention for the New York Police Department.
#9 – Mountain Dew’s Dub The Dew Competition
In 2012 Mountain Dew decided to turn to social media to help them name their new drink due to be released later that year in their ‘Dub The Dew’ competition. One winner would win a digital camera but the prize is probably still gathering dust somewhere in Mountain Dew headquarters to this day, as the competition was hijacked with disastrous results. The final top three placed suggestions were, in reverse order, ‘Fapple’, followed by the even more offensive ‘Gushin’ Granny’, followed by the incredibly offensive ‘Hitler did nothing wrong’. Obviously Mountain Dew were quick to disqualify those three entries for being completely unsuitable but by then it was too late. The remaining top rated suggestions were mainly slight variations on ‘Gushin’ Granny’ with the new top place taken up by ‘Diabeetus’. Unsurprisingly Mountain Dew conceded defeat, they quickly cancelled the competition and publicly admitted that on this occasion they had ‘Lost The Internet’.
#8 – Taylor Swift’s Biggest Fan Competition
Taylor Swift and pizza chain Papa John’s got together in 2012 for a competition that would see Taylor perform at the school that received the most votes in an online poll. The winning school, Horace Mann School in Boston was selected, but it was a school for the deaf and clearly the competition had fallen victim to slightly cruel internet jokers. The school announced they would eagerly host a Taylor Swift concert but it never took place, instead Taylor and Papa John’s both gave a hefty donation to the school. Taylor should have perhaps learned what internet competitions are like, but the following year a Radio station ran a Taylor Swift’s Biggest Fan’ competition where the winner of the most online votes would have the chance to meet her. Amongst the throngs of teenage girls who wanted the chance to meet their idol, a 39 year old, slightly creepy looking man named Charles rose to the top of the poll. This time Taylor donated nothing and Charles’ chance for a date with Taylor was lost when he was removed from the competition.
#7 – Name A Research Vessel Competition
In 2016 the UK’s state funded Research organization, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) decided to name their new $287 million polar research ship and they turned to the internet for help. Fortunately entries such as ‘Nicolas Cage’, ‘Titanic 2: The Revenge’ and ‘Big Metal Floaty Thing’ failed to win top prize, but the runaway winner, taking in over 30% of the 400,000 total votes was ‘Boaty McBoatface’. The radio presenter who had jokingly suggested the name in the first place even apologized to the research organization on Twitter for it’s unexpected popularity. Having spent a few years in the offices of NERC a couple of decades ago I know it’s not the most fun-loving institution on the planet, so I wasn’t surprised when they decided to call the ship ‘Sir David Attenborough’ instead, but the organization did agree to use the name for one of the ships on-board submersibles, and Boaty McBoatface the yellow submarine was first used off of the Chilean coast in early 2017.
#6 – Name a Baby Competition
A Canadian couple somewhat unwisely made the decision that the internet was the perfect place to determine the first and middle names of their soon to be born daughter. All things considered, cyberspace was not as cruel to the couple as it could have been, as combinations such as ‘Streetlamp Salad’ and Megatron Of-The-Sea’ didn’t manage to top the list. However, after more than 150,000 votes had been cast the winning first and middle names were ‘Cthulhu’ and ‘All-Spark’, having received 98,000 and 58,000 votes respectively. Not being particularly keen to name their daughter after H.P. Lovecraft’s demonic optopus-headed monster the couple wisely decided to choose the far more conventional, and considerably less scary ‘Amelia Savannah Joy’ instead. A similar competition in 2013 resulted in ‘Titanium’ winning, with ‘Luna’ a close second place, although again these dubious suggestions were shoved aside for the far more conventional ‘Alison’.
#5 – Choose Justin Bieber’s Next Tour Destination Competition
The Rich and Famous will always have their fair share of unwanted attention, and in 2010 Canadian singer Justin Bieber, then aged just 16, had already been the victim of several internet hoaxes that claimed he had been killed in a car crash, or an avalanche, or by drowning. There was even a hoax that claimed that he had joined a cult, so when an online competition asking internet users which country he should visit on his next tour was launched, with no restrictions on which countries could be chosen, it was bound to end in trouble. North Korea was in clear first place with more than half a million votes at the end of the competition, and considering the lack of internet facilities in the country, organized trolling was clearly the culprit. North Korea said any request to travel there would be dealt with by Pyongyang while Justin’s record label quickly announced that they had not endorsed the competition, and now, more than seven years later, Justin still hasn’t announced a date for his North Korean tour
#4 – Norwegian Air’s Tail-fin Hero Competition
When Norwegian Air decided to hold an online poll to decide which great Norwegian to honor by putting their image on the tail-fins of their planes, there were only a few rules. The hero had to be deceased, famous and Norwegian. Unfortunately the winning entry was black metal guitarist Oystein Aarseth, more commonly known as Euronymous, from the black metal band Mayhem. Euronymous wasn’t a popular choice with the airline however, mainly being remembered for a series of arson attacks on churches, vicious in-fighting in the Satanic Norwegian black metal scene and using the skull fragments of Mayhem’s lead singer to make a necklace, after he discovered the vocalist had killed himself. Euronymous had been stabbed by another Norwegian black metal musician in 1993 and was easily leading the poll, but fortunately for Norwegian Air his family asked that he be removed from the competition, which no doubt led to a few sighs of relief as Norwegian Air announced that they ‘Naturally’ respected the family’s wishes.
#3 – Next’s Make Me a Model Competition
When UK-based fashion retailer Next held a competition in 2011 to choose their next modelling star, they received thousands of entries from young beautiful people vying for the top prize of $3,000, a photo shoot and a meeting with a modelling agency. They also received an entry from a slightly overweight, red-faced, ginger haired gentleman from Belfast named Roland Bunce, who was not your average model in terms of looks. However Roland shot to the top of the poll with 66,000 votes, far ahead of the mere 89 votes received by the attractive dark-haired lady in second place, and he looked set to win the prize. He gained tens of thousands of fans on his Facebook page and Twitter account with many applauding his victory for the common man, but Roland suddenly pulled out of the competition after receiving threats online, and malicious phone calls to his home and employer.
#2 – Austin’s Solid Waste Services Department Competition
When Austin, Texas were looking for a new handle for their Waste Management department in 2011 they held an online poll to decide the new name. Third place was the ‘Ministry of Filth’ with over a thousand votes, and second place was ‘Department of Neat and Clean’ with just over 2,000, but with almost 30,000 votes the runaway winner was ‘Fred Durst Society of the Humanities and Arts’. The name was suggested by a former Solid Waste Services employee who was no fan of Limp Bizkit or the musical talents of the bands lead singer. Fred however was not offended and later thanked Austin residents for their support before encouraging them to keep the name at the top of the list. Austin authorities however invoked their ‘No Obligation’ clause from the competition and instead plumped for the far less interesting ‘Austin Resources Recovery’.
#1 – Walmart’s Pitbull Contest
The internet may have ruffled the feathers of Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift, while Mountain Dew and the NYPD ended up regretting their online polls, but rapper Pitbull was a far more formidable opponent for the internet. In 2012 Walmart held a competition where people could vote online to send the artist to any location in the World that had a Walmart store, and the winner by a huge margin was the tiny city of Kodiak in Alaska. Although Kodiak boasts a population of just over 6,000 it managed to gain over 70,000 votes, mainly due to the shenanigans of Boston Phoenix writer David Thorpe who suggested it as a joke, due to it being the most remote Walmart location in the World. But Pitbull was not to be discouraged, he packed his bags for the trip and took David Thorpe with him, even paying for the pranksters trip. His appearance in Kodiak was a roaring success, and the subsequent concert was attended by several hundred people. It may have been a small audience for Pitbull but it was a large percentage of the town’s population. The rapper was honored by receiving the key to the city from the Mayor, and he also gained the respect of fans around the World. David Thorpe called Pitbull a true gentleman and Pitbull in turn thanked Kodiak for the fantastic reception, declaring that he was greatly honored by the turnout and the warm welcome he had received.
So there you have it, if you want to ask for suggestions for anything, ask your friends, ask your co-workers or ask your employees, but whatever you do, never ask the internet unless you’re prepared for some unexpected results.