French Voters Warned To Stay Off Social Media Lest They 'Crash The Election'

from the not-likely dept

Update: Apparently the Guardian made a translation error, and the French ‘bugger’ is actually borrowed from the English ‘bug’ (as in computer bug) and just means ‘crash’.

Last year, we wrote about a situation developing in Canada, where a strict reading of legacy election laws made it illegal for east-coast voters to discuss exit polls on Facebook or Twitter until polling stations across the country had officially closed. Now, the Guardian reports that a more or less identical situation has cropped up in France, where newspapers and regulators are warning citizens to keep mum about early results in the upcoming presidential election.

French law prohibits the media from publishing polls or exit surveys between midnight on the Friday before election day until all the voting stations have closed on Sunday – 8pm in cities and 6pm in towns.

This is strictly upheld. Because of time differences, French voters in overseas territories and departments, such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, will have gone to the polls the previous day; knowing early results in areas where the outcome is expected to be close could influence last-minute voters.

The French commission for opinion polls has ruled that Twitter and Facebook fall within the legal definition of media and are bound by the law.

The Journal du Dimanche headlined an article about the situation: “Twitter fera-t-il bugger l’élection?” (Will Twitter bugger crash the election?)

As we noted last year with regard to Canada, such laws are holdovers from a time when the national media was controlled by a few key players. In the modern world, where everyone is the media, they are completely impractical. And indeed, as the Canadian election wrapped up, it became clear that citizens were completely ignoring the rule, even going so far as to set up a website dedicated to aggregating such tweets. In fact it seemed that the law actually drove more people to share early results online—and then the whole story sort of fizzled, when Elections Canada admitted that they only investigate and enforce the law in response to specific complaints.

As the Guardian notes, such a law is perhaps more significant in France, where the overseas territories mean the polling window spans two days. But, whatever arguments there may be for protecting the sanctity of elections, the law is still unenforceable. I suspect we’ll see the same disregard in France as we did in Canada—and probably the same lack of repercussions, depending on the outcome of the vote. Someday, somewhere in the world, we may see a close election get contested on the grounds that such a law was broken—and that will spark a huge debate about the role of social media and the internet in election polling. But for now, it’s unlikely that many people will heed the warnings and alter their behavior.

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Comments on “French Voters Warned To Stay Off Social Media Lest They 'Crash The Election'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think a better solution is to have an alternate vote system, or, better yet, a proportional vote system.

Strategically, if I want to vote for a third party candidate because I don’t like the two main party candidates, but if I like one main party candidate more than another, if I see an exit poll indicating that the main party candidate I dislike the most might win, I might instead vote for the main party candidate I dislike the least. This will take away votes from the third party candidate I prefer to vote for.

With an alternative vote system, I can vote for my third party candidate first and vote for the main party candidate I dislike the least second so that if my third party candidate loses, my vote automatically goes to the main party candidate I dislike the least. This way I don’t have to worry about this so much.

Unfortunately, a problem still exists in that if I perceive my candidate has no chance of winning based on exit polls, I may not vote at all. This is where a proportional election system comes in handy (though it also has its weaknesses of course) because in a proportional system I don’t have to worry about who is going to ‘win’, my party gets seats based on how many people vote for it. So the exit polls may show that I dislike will get the most number of seats, but I’m still encouraged to vote for my party because my vote could still help my party take get an additional seat (perhaps taking it from the party I dislike).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Also, a proportional representation system should allow me to vote for my preferred candidate within the party I choose to vote for. Perhaps to reduce the spoiler effect within parties, a three candidate alternative vote system can be set up within each party. My vote prioritizes the candidate within my favorite party that I like the most and the candidate that I like the second most gets voted second on my ballot, and the same for the third. My party gets my vote no matter what, those within my party that get the most (highest priority) votes get seats first.

This is beneficial, and eliminates most of the problems with the proportional vote system, since more than one person may get a seat within my party, if I can only vote for one person then I have no way to prioritize who gets a seat within my party beyond the person I vote for. For example, most people within my party may agree with the top two candidates and may vote for them. Most people within my party may not like the third candidate so much but a very few who do may vote for them. Most people in my party may prefer the fourth candidate over the third but because they voted for the first two candidates they have no way of indicating this. If my party only gets three seats, the candidate that most members within my party like the least may get the third seat. Requiring parties to give members the option of prioritizing their votes, if done correctly, could fix this and get a third candidate that more members within the party agree with.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: seriously

try every voter ever to have that information, near enough.

in New Zealand it has become bloody obvious that this happens all the time. to the point where some of the news companies Deliberately Publish the results of dodgy polls which have obviously been skewed to support their favoured party. week after week after week… and because they’re reporting ‘fact’ it’s not even restricted campaign related stuff during the election period.

this lead Directly to about 1/4th of the registered electors Not Voting in the last election, leading to National just Barely eaking out a 50%+1 majority after forming a coalition with what would have to be the single most hated party that actually manages to get in reliably. (other than themselves).

this was after MONTHS of the government controlled news services very carefully walking the fine line they do of not critisizing Any of the parties in power unless A: they could hit all the parties with any hope of getting in at once, or B: the events were so blatantly disasterous that the party would take more damage from it being found out Later after being hushed up than it coming to light then (or so it appeared, at least) while 3 News, owned by american interests (established fact: National acts more on US interests than NZ interests, when not acting directly in the interests of getting re-elected or lining their pockets) dedicated pretty much every article on the elections to either how Labour was going to lose or blatantly bias and corrupt polls in support of National… and did everything they possibly could to ignore the rest of the parties in parliament or write them off as loonies… none of the media EVER mentions ANY party that’s not already in parliament, no matter how much support it has. (the closest 3News came to saying anything against national was when they had a go at the state owned OneNews for how they handled the debates… and even then general consensis from all sides was that none of the parties really ‘won’ the debate, and the big loosers were the audience.)

National’s name is also ironic… it’s either the first or second most ‘globalist’ (for want of a better term) party in the country.
(all (or almost all) of the left wing parties of any significance have taken up nationalist policies and attitudes of late, as have the saner center/center-right parties, largely in response to the massive public backlash against National’s blatantly pro-foreign interests/Anti-New Zealand Citizen polices. people like to ignore that Labour did a lot (possibly more) of the same stuff when it was in power, just without stepping on anyone’s toes in the process.)

but yeah, this is the same issue as with exit polls,and under a proportional system. people see the party they like least is (supposedly) going to win, and so rather than voting for the ones they like anyway to reduce the damage, Don’t Vote, making each vote in favour of the one they dislike More Valuable and give them More Power.

had that remaining 1/4th voted, there is no way in hell National could have assembled a majority… we were at the point where essentually Every Other Party (except Act, which is basically ‘National with even less sanity’ and which i personally write off as ‘part of National’s bloc’) was (apparantly) willing to form a single coalition, despite having major disagreements with each other, just to shut them out. this would have, bizzarely, been in line with public sentiment and probably given them the most solid mandate to govern (though not do any specific thing) any government has had in a long time… (had it been possible to form a coalition Without doing that, of course, the various points of contention would have become an issue again… and a smaller national party persence might have lead to some of them being willing to go with National anyway if it offered them a better deal, which, in a weaker position, it might have done. still, )

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: seriously

In a close race, especially in countries that aren’t dominated by two opposing parties as US politics tend to be, it could make a difference to how somebody votes. To use the last UK election as an example, you may have been voting to get rid of the incumbent Labour party, and so would usually vote Conservative in order to achieve this. Then, when it became clear they had enough support for your vote to be effective, you may have switched your vote to your preferred Lib Dems. Enough people vote like this in a close race, it could have a real impact.

It’s not a great way to vote, but considering the number of people who vote based on looks, gender, colour or even conspiracy theories, it’s not surprising.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a big problem, either, just another way in which technology is changing how the world works (time zones don’t matter like they used to).

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: seriously

where do you live that such oppinion polls are accurate?

here abouts they’re blatant propaganda that are just ‘fact-y’ enough to not trip campaign rules … the Polls are horribly bias and corrupt, but they’re data gathering, not Campaigning… and the Reporting on them is not Campaigning at all, just statement of ‘fact’.

this is used Deliberately to discourage supporters of those parties opposing the group the media company in question supports…

to devistating effect in the last election where it was a major contributing factor to 1/4th of all registered electors Not Voting, resulting in an Exact 50%+1 seat win by the party (and it’s one or two (my memory is vague on if the second was needed or simply bandwagon jumping)’irrelevant as a separate entity’ smaller buddies) that was being supported by said obviously corrupt poll.

they had been making the claim that National would get a minimum of 50% for Months, during the course of which you could not find anyone with anything positive to say about national Anywhere but the dedicated ‘national is awesome and everyone sucks and no i did not engage my Brain before writing this, rar shill troll rar’ type blogs

should also be noted that electorate boundries got redrawn (as they need to do periodically due to population changes), in many cases (as is far from uncommon) in favour of the current ruling party…

In Spite of all this, there were so many electorates that were so close as to need repeated recounts … and court cases over some of them… it was nuts. the one i Live in was a Perfect Tie between two candidates for the local electorate seat (we use an MMP system) until days after the election when the last of the special votes (people out of the country or otherwise unable to vote in their electorate on election day) came in. those special votes only add up to a few hundred voters per electorate, generally. enough to make a difference to the national level party vote, but usually completely irrelevant in terms of who wins an electorate…

i don’t know why people believed these polls though… we’ve had years of elections where 3news kept trying to do the same thing and it didn’t pan out… one of which had national reduced from alternating between largest and second largest depending on if it won or not, to ‘actually smaller than some of the ‘minor’ parties’ … there was much hope it would just Die after that, but sadly it came back.

of course, This time National was the incumbent at the same time and Labour is falling into the trap National did of changing leaders every election and picking people no one’s ever heard of… (and, the media kept slaming their last pick as having no presense and being evasive and God knows what else despite people easily remembering who he was and him being honest and straight forward and actualy answering questions when asked rather than ranting on about unrelated subjects as everyone else does… bizzarely, their current leader? most people can’t remember his damn NAME most of the time, or face, or anything he’s actually done. … compaired to the previous one, he’s something of a non-entity so far._

Anonymous Coward says:

This site is barely readable already because of all the bias, prejudice, and misstatements of law. Please don’t make it worse by writing a bunch of articles about Canada. Your articles are at least readable, unlike Tim’s. But if you’re going to write about Canada, I don’t think I can stomach it. No offense, but Canada sucks.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I do hope you left out the sarcasm tag at the end of your AC post. 😉

The silly thing about the “don’t report results before the polls close” is that where at town sits right smack on a time zone boundary, say Lloydminster, Sask and Lloydminster, Alberta it’s legal to broadcast the results to people across the street but not to you.

The Canadian law, incidentally, doesn’t ban reporting on exit polls just the results lest we are swayed out here in British Columbia by the results in Nova Scotia. Not likely to happen but if it should the voters here in Lotus Land would vote the opposite way to Nova Scotia just out of spite. We’re a cranky bunch here.

And, as noted in the post, Elections Canada has, for all practical purposes given up on enforcing the law on social media because it first needs a complaint to investigate. It must drive “old” media nuts to see Twitter and Facebook able to do things they can’t. 😉 The law itself is and has been a relic for decades and it’s long past time it vanished.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ha! I know, but he brought up Canada in this article. And he wrote about Canada yesterday. And he’s from Canada. It’s all too much. That’s great if he loves the U.S. and can’t get enough of us, but he should keep his maple flag-waving thoughts on his side of the border.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… if by ‘accurate’ you mean ‘people are idiots so change their votes based on nonsense data’ … aka: self fulfilling prophecy.

it is my opinion that the only way you will ever get a fair, meaningful, unbiased election result is if no voter has ANY information about how any other voters will vote.

which is pretty much impossible.

Nic (profile) says:

That law is unenforceable but still useful. News organizations still have to adhere to it and let’s face it, a lot of people watch the news to follow the results.

Everyone knowing the results ahead can either deter voting (very likely outcome btw) or change results of close races because of lemmings who vote for the one who looks like they’ll win because they think it’ll make them gain favour of the ruling government.

Impractical? Unenforceable? Yes. But still necessary. And if France has it spread over 2 days, it makes even more sense to have one. News organization are the prime target here since the rest is mostly just hearsay and unreliable.

Kurata says:

Re: Re:

as nic said, knowing the results ahead can deter voting.
such a case happened in france, in 2002, when french people thought on the second run of the elctions, it’d be the leftist against the rightist as per usual.
however, since the leftists thoughts so, they all went on vacation, and as a result, the extremists (le pen) and the rightist went head to head on the second turn.

since then, not deterring votes has been one of the biggest issues when it comes to president elections

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Twitter and Facebook fall within the legal definition of media

‘course, if you use the Actual meaning of the word, CDs, flash drives, water, air, the ground, and various other things, as long as you have more than one of them and something can travel through them, are also media…

one could make a (literalist and non-legal) case that you inherently qualify on the basis that the bone structure between your mouth and ear can carry sound… (that’s why your voice sounds different to you from how it sounds to everyone else, btw. you get that as well as the sound traveling through the air. everyone else only gets the latter.)

Badger (profile) says:

> In the modern world, where everyone is the media, they are completely impractical.

That’s not a very good argument.

There’s a lot of people in the world, so stopping them doing anything could be considered ‘impractical’ but that doesn’t mean that that is the correct course of action.

People need to understand and accept their responsibilities when acting as ‘broadcasters’. Just because it is easy for someone to broadcast to millions doesn’t mean that they should not bound by the same rules and conventions – see the current problems in the UK where people have used Twitter to name rape victims (

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