How much is a tweet worth? Well, if you’re Canadian it could be worth a 25, 000 dollar fine if you tweet election results before all national polling stations close. Oh, Canada.
The upcoming Canadian Federal election set to take place on May 2, 2011 has been called the country’s first “social media election”. From leader’s campaigns, to viral videos, and twitter hashtags, Canadians are seeing social media everywhere, but will the tweeting come to a halt on May 2nd?
It may have to. Section 329 of the Canada Election Act prohibits any person from disclosing elections results. This is to try and stop the prejudicing of voters in different parts of the country based on results elsewhere. Essentially, it’s a way to make sure that West coast voters go into the ballot box and blind as their East coast counter parts. If a person were to leak election results, they could be reported to the Commissioner of Canada Election. This could, in turn, lead to a formal investigation, and what is the fine for leaking election results early? A meagre 25, 000 dollars.
While many Twitter and Facebook users are less than impressed by the fine, Elections Canada is standing by the law. Spokesperson James Harle notes, “As long as the law is on the books, like any other law, it has to be obeyed.” However, given that the law was written 73 years ago, it isn’t designed to deal with such complications as privacy settings. So, Facebook postings within a private network may be acceptable, but postings on walls may be considered public transmissions and hence, break the law. Elections Canada does not address how tweets are impacted by Section 329.
So, how does Elections Canada plan on dealing with potential breaches? Well directly, it doesn’t. Elections Canada has been clear to state that it does not monitor social media. So, there will only be an issue if someone is reported. But, given that this is politics, where mudslinging and tattling is a past time, there is a real risk that a user could be reported, and there has already been a case of someone breaking section 329. In the 2000 election, a Vancouver blogger was fined 1000 dollars for posting election results, and the decision was upheld in the Supreme Court in 2007.
To make matters worse, there is a four and a half hour difference between the most Eastern riding in Newfoundland and the most Western on Vancouver Island, and social media users aren’t exactly notorious for their patience. So, are leaks inevitable? Will people be willing to risk the fine? Probably, and the truth is it might be a good thing.
While it’s certainly important to try and keep the democratic process as equal, even, and fair as possible, social media is changing politics, and while some of those changes are for the worse, there is at least one that’s for the better: people are tweeting, status updating, and talking about politics. In a era where voter turnout has been steadily declining, can that really be considered a bad thing?