SeaWorld Entertainment, the company that runs aquatic-themed parks across the world featuring dolphins, killer whales and other marine mammals, is in public relations crisis mode following the release of the critical documentary film Blackfish, this time having to respond to questions about whether they tried to rig an otherwise run-of-the-mill online poll about the movie in their favor.
Blackfish documents the capture and captivity of killer whales, the stars of SeaWorld’s most popular theme park attractions. The filmmakers spoke at length with marine life experts and former SeaWorld animal trainers, who share stories of their own near-death encounters and being misled by SeaWorld officials on the dangers posed by their 5-ton carnivorous pupils.
SeaWorld executives refused to comment for the movie, and have remained relatively tight-lipped in the months since the film debuted on CNN and then again three weeks ago when it first appeared on Netflix. But as the Orlando Business Journal reported on Thursday, they aren’t entirely shying away from pushing back against the film; they’re just doing so in secret by allegedly rigging online polls about the movie:
Imagine our surprise when we noticed that one single Internet Protocol Address (IP Address) accounted for more than 54 percent of the votes, or about 180 of the total 328 votes. IP Addresses are typically unique Internet identifiers given to a computer or series of devices — say a multi-computer network in your office.
And who’s the owner of the domain name and company that address belong to? SeaWorld.com and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
SeaWorld is hardly the first company to try and rig online polls or sway popular opinion in their favor by posing as impartial netizens. Everyone from Microsoft to Samsung have been caught artificially inflating their popularity or performance to woo unsuspecting customers who think they are getting objective reviews from their peers.
SeaWorld didn’t deny that votes were originating from their own internal servers, but told the Business Journal that the votes were simply coming from their dedicated employees who had “strong feelings” about the company. However, according to Orlando Business Journal Editor Cindy Barth, since SeaWorld was first pressed about the suspicious voting, nobody else has cast a vote from the same IP address.
“In looking at the poll numbers, they are unchanged from yesterday as far as the SeaWorld [IP] address,” she told ThinkProgress on Friday.
Meanwhile, the rest of the internet has since caught wind of the poll, and even with SeaWorld’s votes, those who say their opinion of the park has changed since watching Blackfish has jumped from just 1 percent to more than 73 percent as of Friday afternoon.