This winter at West Coast Sound we've been trying to determine the best live band in L.A.
Because we're into democracy and whatnot, we turned the process over to our readers, and in the beginning that seemed to be working.
The semi-finals kicked off in mid-February, and we were overwhelmed by the levels of participation. So many people voting!
Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that many of the voters were not people at all.
Dan Nash is the Santa Monica-based manager of trio The Vim Dicta, one of our ten finalists. He passed along a message the band received on Facebook from the account of a young man from Bangladesh named Feroz Ahmed.
"If it was sent to The Vim Dicta, it was sent to everyone," Nash speculated. His group had not taken Feroz up on his offer - but, he suspected, others might have.
Nash's theory made sense, and folks in the comment section were starting to toss around vote-rigging allegations. We clearly needed to look into this.
And so we did. Admittedly, the polling widget we used was not very sophisticated, and allowed for multiple votes, in rapid succession, from the same IP address. Though we'd stipulated that only one vote per person was allowed, it was certainly naive of us not to expect people to take advantage.
And take advantage they did. Upon analyzing votes, it became clear that robovoting was a big problem - some of the groups had thousands of votes from the same IP address, often made in rapid succession in the middle of the night.
Just to be clear: We're not accusing any of the bands of cheating. It's quite possible that someone undertook the robovoting on their behalf, without their knowledge. It's even possible that, as is often the case with bots, there was no rhyme or reason to who got the fraudulent votes.
But unfortunately, whatever the case, those votes had to be disqualified. After that, we selected the top three remaining vote-getters as our finalists. (Results below.)
Meanwhile we asked Dan Nash to reach out to our friend Feroz Ahmed and, pretending to be acting on behalf of the Vim Dicta, find out just how expensive his services would be. And that's when things got really interesting.
Clearly, Feroz was a criminal mastermind, or at the very least a high school kid looking to earn some cash for his LARPing club.
I reached out to him on Skype, and he immediately answered. Wearing a puberty-style patchy mustache, he spoke from his blue-painted room in Khulna, the third biggest city in Bangladesh. He quickly re-routed our conversation to chat, noting that his written English was superior to his speaking abilities.
I explained that I didn't want to buy votes but rather get to the bottom of this situation, and he was surprisingly amenable.
He and two partners, he said, sell votes to entrants in these types of contests to help pay for school fees, and make some pocket money. He's studying engineering - he says he's 22 - and he and his pals each make as much as $1,000 a month, though sometimes it's as low as $10 a month, despite the fact that they send out these emails relentlessly. "We are poor student[s]," he explained. "It's not a big amount."
How did he find out about our band contest? He simply Googled "vote now" and it turned up. He then contacted all ten bands. He insisted that no one took him up on his offers.
Of course, there's no way to know if this is true - and his exchange with Nash above seems to throw that into doubt - but it's certainly possible that the bands who received robovotes didn't use Feroz's services. (And, again, it's also quite possible that these groups did nothing wrong whatsoever.)
Nonetheless, once we addressed the funny business, we were left with three bands as finalists:
*Mars & The Massacre
*The Vim Dicta
As George W. Bush would say, fool me and you can't get fooled again. And so to determine the winner we are going to scrap democracy in favor of a benevolent oligarchy. Our wizened panel of elders will itself choose the best live band in L.A.
Over the coming weeks we'll be interviewing and filming the bands live, and you can look for those profiles and footage before long. We should have a winner picked by mid-April at the latest.
For now, we can only offer our utmost apologies to everyone who legitimately voted; next time we'll know better.
As for Feroz, he wasn't apologizing. When I asked if he or his partners had ever gotten in trouble for their work, he shot back with a series of questions:
"If i want [to do] data entry or graphics design work, can you provide me regular basic work?"
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I replied that I could not.
"Yes," he responded. "Every guy tell us this. For this we work on market place for any kind of work. So, where is our problem?"