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
buggercrash 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.