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How a Social Media Campaign to Game the Emmys Led to This Week’s ‘Block Voting’ Scandal

The Television Academy’s “block voting” controversy has quickly become the talk of Emmy season — and that appears to have been the org’s point.

According to multiple insiders, the number of people disqualified from voting in this year’s competition is believed to be small, only around three members (out of nearly 25,000 members overall). But their attempts to game the system were egregious enough for the Academy to take this unprecedented move.

The Academy sent a memo to members of its performers’ peer group earlier this week confirming that it had halted “a few” members from voting in this year’s competition after finding proof that they had been “engaged in or advocated for block voting.”

In this case, according to multiple insiders, those members were behind social media posts (believed to be inside an invite-only Facebook group, inaccessible to the public) and group emails that aimed to hyper-focus Emmy votes toward specific lesser-known contenders.

The goal: Band together, and give at least one or two of their fellow underdogs a better shot at breaking through in categories that are mostly dominated by household names.

But the TV Academy apparently was able to obtain screen images of the “block voting” campaign, leading to this week’s action.

“The Television Academy has disqualified a few members who were engaged in the early stages of a block voting strategy for the first round of Emmy voting,” Television Academy Chairman and CEO Frank Scherma said in a statement sent to Variety on Wednesday. “This is a direct violation of our rules of competition and our member code of conduct. This type of activity will not be tolerated.”

The Television Academy is keeping the names of the penalized voters under wraps. One insider said the members whose social media posts were found and led to their disqualifications have expressed remorse, and “didn’t realize they were breaking the rules.”

By making this move just three days into nomination voting, the Academy is hoping to put a stop to a practice that it feared was becoming more common in the social media age: Organized strategies to game the system by pooling votes toward one potential nominee.

The decision to send a message to TV Academy members flirting with a similar block voting strategy comes after the org strengthened the language against such actions in this year’s Emmy rulebook. “Quid pro quo and block voting are considered by the Academy to be in violation of the spirit and substance of the member code of conduct clause that deems any action or activity which could reasonably be construed as contrary or detrimental to the best interests of the Academy to be a violation of the code,” the TV Academy’s rules now say, as of an April 9 update.

There’s a very thin line between that and other FYC strategies, of course. The not-so-secret hope inside networks and studios is that by getting as many staffers as possible into the Academy, their Emmy chances may improve. That’s why many outlets encourage TV Academy membership in the first place.

Some might argue that this week’s culprits were simply trying to find a way to be more competitive vs. major outlets that have enough staffers to potentially push their contenders over the top.

But they have also sent a bit of a shockwave through networks and studios as well, as awards strategists double check and make sure their own subtle in-house messaging isn’t construed as “block voting.” Networks and studios often encourage staffers who are also TV Academy members to vote — and include a list of their own contenders, but stop short of demanding that their employees actually vote for the home team. That kind of uninforced “block voting” is hard to prove, since there’s no specific strategy actually in place. In the case of this week’s action, there was.

“It seems like a scene out of ‘Casablanca,’ as in, ‘I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to hear there’s block voting,'” quipped one awards publicist. “I was on a studio lot earlier this week and there was a banner hanging, encouraging employees to vote for the studio’s contenders.”

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