Monday, April 25, 2011

(empo-tymshft) Canada Elections Act Section 329 and Twitter? That's old news.

Let's start by looking at Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act.

Prohibition – premature transmission of results

329. No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district.

If you believe what you've been reading over the past couple of weeks, this Act has suddenly been affected by the rise of Twitter, The Service That Revolutionizes All Social Relations. Here's what Nicole Ferraro said:

One impediment to the rapid adoption of social media within governments has been the archaic laws that don't take modern-day communications technologies into consideration.

The US discovered this the hard way when the Obama administration took office eager to adopt all things 2.0. And now Canadians are facing a similar issue, thanks to a law that may ensure citizens are fined for discussing May 2nd election results online before all polls officially close.

This social media ban is the result of a 73-year-old law -- a provision in Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act -- which prohibits people from discussing polling results. The point of this is to avoid swaying voters' decisions in western parts of the country where the polls have not closed.

But in the age of immediate disclosure and transparency, this isn't sitting well with Facebook- and Twitter-happy Canadians.

And now, all of a sudden, this is a huge issue. And it sounds like it never was before.

Well, that is certainly understandable. Television and radio in Canada is regulated, and presumably the Canadian government could enforce regulations to prohibit the broadcast of Montreal polling data while people in the Yukon are still voting.

But the Canadian law does not use the word "broadcast." It uses the word "transmit." And there are a number of ways to transmit data. Many of these data transmission methods existed way back in the 20th century, before Twitter and Facebook. And many of these data transmission methods existed 73 years ago.

Now perhaps it's impractical for a Quebec paper to print the news and for someone to board a plane and fly it to Vancouver. But there is a transmission method that existed 73 years ago that could allow instantaneous transmissions, thus allowing you to break Canadian law.

That transmission method? The telephone.

And for those who argue that tweets and Facebook status updates could be seen by thousands, remember that in earlier years some phone connections were not one-to-one. You see, back then the party line was common.

Although I don't think that it's much of a party to scream into a phone, "Louis St. Laurent has won in Quebec!"

But political animals in any country are weird.

The point is that sometimes people assume that Twitter is changing the world. The world was changed long ago.
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