Elon professor suspects illegal voting activity in national college competition

ELON, N.C. — A professor at Elon University said bots are rigging the results of a national competition.

Kathleen Stansberry, an assistant professor at Elon, discovered unusual Twitter activity connected to a national student video contest run by Coca-Cola Co. and Regal Films.

The contest, featured in movie theaters across the country, has five final entries, including a commercial made by students at Elon.

The entry that receives the most votes, as measured by Twitter hashtag use, will win a $14,000 camera for its school.

Stansberry showed Channel 9 the analytical charts that first caught her attention.

She said the data indicates possible illegal, automated voting activity in support of UCLA.

“I started to dig a little bit deeper,” Stansberry told Channel 9. “There were some anomalies with one of the hashtags.”

Bot accounts, or fake accounts, used for voting activity are not easy to determine, but they are a violation of contest rules.

"A lot of people are tweeting all at the same time using very similar language, you know, those sorts of things that just make you think, 'Better look into it more,'” Stansberry said. “They had some of the red flags that may indicate bot accounts.”

Stansberry reported the activity to Coca-Cola Co. and Regal Films.

“I know that they're taking it very seriously,” Stansberry said.

Stansberry said her students want the competition to be fair.

Coca-Cola Co. and Regal Films have not responded.

The contest ends at midnight.

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