Unfortunately, it's not totally harmless. Some relentless cybercriminals will stop at nothing to pervert the course of online justice and, in doing so, they have forced the removal of one of the most powerful tools for democracy in New Zealand. That's right - according to page A2 of today's paper, hackers have forced to removal of the Herald's daily online poll!
Hackers skewed the results? Well at least that's a change from racists skewing the results. In fact, recent polls have been so poorly designed that they're skewed before they even get on the website. "Should recycling electronic waste be easier?" No, you should have to jump over hurdles on the way to the bin. And the the "skewed" Tamaki poll - it's a shame, because today I was expecting something along the line of "Was Hitler just misunderstood?"
Online polls on the Herald's website nzherald.co.nz have been pulled until further notice after hackers entered the system, skewing the results of three polls.
The polls - which included questions relating to whether people thought Destiny Church was a cult or a church, if people thought it was okay for MP Rodney Hide to take his girlfriend on tour at taxpayers' expense and if people were sick of being told they were ruining the planet - were hacked late last week.
Mr Rees [the nzherald.co.nz publisher] said IT specialists were looking into the problems and had identified internet protocol (IP) numbers 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11 as the source of the problems but polls had been stopped until issues were resolved.Naming and shaming, twenty-first-century style.
What? "The new google wave" ... "take a hack"? It sounds like my mother talking about the internet. (Sorry Mum.)
While some people might think the poll hacking was a conspiracy from interested parties, that was often not the case, Mr Rees said.
"Often most likely it's some kind of 18-year-old guy in a black T-shirt who's bored from looking at the new Google wave [a type of software] product and has decided to take a hack."
Anyway, there's another question here - once we've stopped sniggering - and that's about exactly why this constitutes a major news story. Apart from the more general cybercrime angle, I'm not certain that the (temporary) end of the notorious Herald online poll is a serious source of concern to anyone, let alone readers of the print edition. But it does fit into a much richer tradition: that of the Herald simply reporting anything that happens to them. Why anyone would want to read a Herald story about how Herald subscriptions have gone up - apart from the visceral thrill of 'picking the right horse' - is beyond me. (But then I'm not an advertiser.)
In solidarity with the Herald, let's finish off with a poll of our own, one that will show that 18-year-old guy in, for some reason, a black T-shirt that the internet is united against him:
Should polls be skewed by cybercriminals, or by the people writing them?
Answers on the back of a postcard.