Following the 2020 election, Trump-supporting right wing activist Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, repeatedly and publicly claimed that he possessed data showing that China had interfered with the election. To further amplify his baseless claim, Lindell hosted a “Cyber Symposium” in August 2021 to make his data available to press, politicians, and cyber experts. There, he announced a contest, calling it the “Prove Mike Wrong Challenge”. The contest announcement said that the participants “have one goal. Find proof that this cyber data is not valid data from the November Election. For the people who find the evidence, 5 million is their reward.” One contestant, software developer Robert Zeidman, did indeed prove Mike wrong, showing that the data was not genuine election data, and he claimed the prize. Lindell refused to pay it. This arbitration followed.
The arbitrators’ decision started – of course -- with an analysis of the Official Rules, which entrants were required to sign. The rules focused on the authenticity of the data rather than on what the data did or did not prove about any interference by China, because apparently Lindell was convinced by the cyber experts he hired that the data he possessed was genuine and that no one would be able to win the contest and claim the prize. The rules further provided that entrants would have to submit all of their evidence in writing to a three member panel selected by Lindell which would determine “whether the submission proves to a 100% degree of certainty that the data shown at the Symposium is not reflective of November 2020 election data.” The contest judges determined that Zeidman’s submission did not disprove that the data “concerned the election” and refused to award him the prize.
Carefully parsing the language of the official rules, the arbitrators determined that the contest judges’ reading of the rules about what Zeidman had to prove was inaccurate: Zeidman needed only disprove that the data was actually FROM the election, i.e., from the election process itself, as opposed to ABOUT the election. As the arbitrators noted, “it would be unreasonable to conclude that any data about the election is 'election data.' Newspaper articles and broadcast news about the election are transmitted as data over the internet, for example. It is unreasonable to conclude that any data file containing those accounts – or excerpts from such a file – would qualify as election data in a contest. If such data qualified, the Contest would not really be a contest at all.” Since Zeidman was able to prove that Lindell’s data was not from the election, he should have been declared a winner. Therefore, Lindell’s failure to award Zeidman with the $5 million prize was a breach of contract and the arbitrators ordered Lindell to pay the full prize amount within thirty days.
As has been repeatedly stated in this blog, the Official Rules matter: having them, disclosing them, following them. It’s a contract with entrants and you don’t get to wriggle out of it just because the unexpected happens (someone winning)! This wasn’t even a situation where the sponsor could claim it was only a joke: it was a true contest. It may have been sponsored by the pillow king, but it wasn’t a sham. And someone won it.
P.S. Lindell also faces a $1.3 billion defamation suit from Dominion Voting Systems. Given the recent settlement of Dominion’s case against Fox for over three quarters of a billion dollars, the pillow king may be coughing up a lot of goose feathers.