Tweeting with care on Election Day

November 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today is Election Day in New Zealand. We are choosing new representatives for the country’s Parliament and there’s also a referendum on our electoral system. We have also been warned by the Electoral Commission that it will be monitoring social media to see if there are breaches of the 1993 Electoral Act that governs how elections are conducted.

The full rundown of what is allowed and what is not allowed as it relates to social media can be found here.

The Election Day rule that concerns all users of social media says it is an offence before polls close at 7pm to “publish any statement intended or likely to influence any elector as to the candidate or party or referendum option for whom the elector should or should not vote”.

These rules reflect the long-standing feature of New Zealand electoral law that voters should be free from interference and influence on Election Day. They are the reason, for example, that all election billboards have to be removed before polling day.

These rules apply to statements published or broadcast in all media including social media. The Electoral Act specifically addresses the application of these rules to websites.

Election material does not have to be removed from a website on polling day, so long as the material on the site is only made available to people who voluntarily access it. New material must not be posted and advertisements promoting the website must not be published on polling day.

The Electoral Commission’s advice to people using social media is not to post messages on Election Day that could breach these rules. The prohibition of advertising on polling day enjoys strong public support, and significant breaches are likely to generate complaints.

The Electoral Commission website also explains how the commission intends to police the social media rules:

The Electoral Commission does not proactively monitor all the circumstances and mediums in which breaches of the electoral law might occur. However, where the Electoral Commission becomes aware of a breach through the media or receives a complaint, the Commission will look into the incident and where appropriate refer to the matter to the Police.

And, by the way, if you want to ask the Electoral Commission a question about what goes and what doesn’t on Election Day, you can do it on its Facebook page.

There are also these media articles which include criticism of the Electoral Commission’s approach towards social media – this New Zealand Herald article and this Hawke’s Bay Today article.

The key thing to remember is that the commission will not be itself monitoring social media platforms but will respond to complaints about any breaches. So be careful out there. It is worth pointing out that the more persistent you are in using Facebook and Twitter to promote or advocate for a particular political party or electoral system, the more likely it is that someone will dob you in!


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