Thursday, April 28, 2011

No Facebooking Allowed on Election Night

Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act - written in the 1930s - prohibits the premature broadcasting of election results over Canada's many time zones. Elections Canada recently came out and said that this law applies to the private Facebook posts and tweets of ordinary citizens.
 
Broadcasters have played by these rules for 80 years, but it's pretty ridiculous and more-or-less unenforcable to levy the same law against internet users in 2011. I feel like Elections Canada is ashamed of this law; in one radio interview one of their representatives said something like, "we didn't write this law but it is our obligation to enforce it" (sorry, I can't provide a citation).
 
On today's episode of Q with Jian Ghomeshi, Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal raised an interesting point - she said that as a member of the news media she is not willing to risk incurring a $25k fine by posting election results in advance. She will, however, be scouring the 'net and reading what other people post out of sheer curiosity.
 
This got me thinking about some of the more silly nuances of how this law is interpreted:
  • If it's illegal to post election results in advance on Facebook, is it illegal to "Like" or comment on someone's status that contains advance election results, if that causes the original comment and your action to be re-published in your friends' feed?
  • Is it illegal to "Re-Tweet" a tweet containing advance election results, which effectively broadcasts the message to a new group of users?
  • Is it illegal to link to a source of offending information in your Twitter posts or Facebook wall?
It would be too easy to sign up for a new, anonymous Twitter account through a proxy server and tweet election results anonymously to your heart's content. Actually, I am willing to bet a good number of people who find this law ridiculous plan to do just that. This article talks about a "cyber rebellion" in the works.

Martin Luther King once said, "Just as it is the duty of all men to obey just laws, so it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws". 
 
Thankfully, the CBC and Bell Canada (CTV) have teamed up and have challenged the law in the Supreme Court of Canada (source), but it was not possible to rush the decision to before the election.
 
Is anyone else going to be refreshing Twitter all night on Monday?
 
Related: Here's a good blog providing aggregate analysis of election polls if you're digging this election: http://www.threehundredeight.blogspot.com/