Last night’s Canadian election results were supposed to remain hush-hush until all of the polls had closed, according to a dated law in Canada’s Elections Act – but that didn’t stop hundreds of Twitter users from tweeting the results ahead of the poll closures, potentially risking a $2,500 fine each.
Elections Canada had been under pressure this election season to reevaluate a 1938 law that prohibits any media outlet or individual from broadcasting Canadian election results prior to the closing of the last poll in the country. As Canada has 6 timezones, the polls don’t close until after 9pm Pacific time – a full three hours after they close in the East.
The law is in place to prevent results from early closing polls to influence voters who haven’t made it to their local polls yet, but it was established to respond to radio announcers, not Twitterati. And Canadian Twitter users rebelled.
A website called Tweet the Results was set up during the campaign leading up to yesterday’s election which challenged Canadians to go ahead and tweet the vote – because, as the saying goes, there’s strength in numbers. It asked Canadians to use the hashtag #tweettheresults to show their solidarity when flaunting the dated Elections Canada law, and compiled all of the tweets containing this hashtag on their website.
And many Canadians did take to Twitter last night between the time the Eastern polls closed and the Western polls closed – but sadly, the website that brought this issue to their attention caved into pressure actually closed down during the window of time in which a fine could have been levied. According to TIME, the site had slapped up the following message during its downtime:
“Rather than face a potential fine or protracted legal battle, we have taken this site offline for 3 hours.”
A feeble statement, no doubt. But Canadians heard the message loud and clear and many weren’t scared off like the creators of the site that championed the right to tweet.
Reuters reports that some of the more cautious Twitter users used code in their tweets when discussing the election, referring to the NDP party, for instance, as “oranges” or “orange soda” to disguise their true meaning. Others, apparently not afraid of the big bad Elections Canada, simply tweeted the results as-is, with or without the #tweettheresults hashtag.
To be fair, Elections Canada said it would not actively seek out anyone using Twitter to broadcast election results ahead of the polls closing, but would instead only act upon complaints.
And, as you know if you are a Canadian on Facebook, this phenomenon isn’t Twitter-specific: there were plenty of Canadians who scrambled to post election results on their Facebook status as the polls closed last night. You can read about this on our sister blog, AllFacebook.
Still, I hope all of the attention this issue got on Twitter and in Canada helps to push laws forward and make them catch up with the digital age.