Montreal Radio Blog

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Twittersphere 1 Elections Canada 0

Radio stations were forced to pull their feeds on Monday night. All this was done to keep election results in certain areas from reaching those who had yet to cast their ballots. The Canadian law concerning election results dates back to the late 1930s. The premise is an obvious one: it is believed by some that people may be influenced by the results in other areas of the country. No doubt that may be the case, but why is that any different from posting opinion poll results up until a day before the election? Surely those have far more influence.

In any case, the original law has been on the books for a very long time. It came into being when radio was the only means to obtain updated election results, other than making a long-distance phone call. Well, since then TV had become the king of all media. They too have had to adopt the same policy. Make no mistake about it, today’s traditional media nearly unanimously hates the law. They would much prefer to broadcast results to everybody as they become available.

Still, the law was effective in keeping people in the dark since it was implemented. Broadcasting was the only means of informing large masses and unless you had contacts in the areas in question, you simply had to wait until the polls closed in your part of the country. That all began to change with the advent of the modern Internet.

As far back as 2000, people were beginning to challenge the law. This was years before the explosion of social media. A Vancouver resident was actually fined that year for posting election results on his blog. Paul Bryan was fined $1000. He appealed the law all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. The Court voted 5-4 to uphold the law.

Enter the 2011 vote. Twitter may not have been a huge factor in swaying public opinion during the campaign, but it would become a huge story in reporting its results. Elections Canada had warned people not to tweet early election results, or face the consequences. Those could include fines of up to $25,000. Well, it didn’t take long for the law to be openly challenged. Within minutes of the closing of polls in Newfoundland, results were being posted for all to see. Shortly after, the hash tag #tweettheresults overflowed with not only results, but with plenty of Elections Canada bashing, comedy and sarcasm.

By 9 o’clock Monday evening, #tweettheresults had become the top trending topic on Twitter in Canada, and amazingly, the third highest trender in the world. Now this should in no way indicate that the entire world was fixated on the results of the Canadian election. On the contrary, most probably had no idea we were having one. It did show the incredible penetration of social media in Canada right now. And yes, there were several people down south and in other parts of the world who found the blackout rule fascinating and decided to join in. Some even asked people in Canada to forward them results so that they could in turn tweet them.

Elections Canada is now grappling with how to respond to what happened Monday night. It was clear going in that with the rise of the Internet and new media that such a law is not enforceable. They do say that in order to go after someone for posting results, they would first need to have received a complaint. It remains to be seen if the law will be changed in time for the next election, now scheduled to be no less than 4 years away.

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