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Russian bots strike again, this time targeting a TV talent show for kids

WTF?! We usually think of US election interference campaigns when hearing about Russian bots, but they do have other uses, including rigging a Russian TV talent show for children.

11-year-old Mikella Abramova was crowned the winner of Russia’s The Voice Kids after securing 56.5 percent of the phone-in poll, racking up 30,000 votes.

Suspicion arose as Abramova—the daughter of Russian singer Alsou and millionaire Yan Abamov—received ten times more votes than any other contestant. Cybersecurity investigators Group-IB were brought in to examine the results and discovered that around 8,000 text messages were sent from around 300 consecutive phone numbers.

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“The analyzed traffic revealed massive automated SMS spamming in favor of one of The Voice Kids participants,” Group-IB wrote in its report. One element that helped prove the manipulation came from a technical problem on the part of the person behind the bots. It “resulted in a piece of code designed to automate the sending of messages being included into the text messages in the form of «07 31: 2019-04-26 22:47:31», where 07 is the participant’s number.” It’s still not known who was responsible for the rigging.

Channel One said the incident “must be the first and last time that anyone tries to control the audience’s choice.” It added that “children should not take the blame for actions carried out by somebody else. Each participant becomes a member of the big Voice family.”

The finale of the sixth season will be filmed again later this month, and a new voting system will be in place before the start of the show’s next season.

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