Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Canada has a law on its books which, each election, gets more media attention. Simply put, you’re not allowed to “broadcast” live election results until the polls have closed across the country.

This wasn’t a big deal before the Internet came along, because broadcasters obeyed the law. But when the web, Facebook, and Twitter showed up, everyone seemed to jump on this law saying it was outdated and silly in the reality of today’s communications universe.

Despite what much of the Twitterverse would have you believe, the rationale for the law is actually quite sound.

Let’s say you live on the west coast and plan to vote around 6pm after work. You’re in your car driving to the polling station and you hear the radio announcer say that — so far in poll results — it’s looking like a landslide for a particular party. And it’s the party you wanted to vote for. So, you don’t bother to vote. Heck, you have kids to feed and a lawn to cut, and it looks like you’re going to win anyway, so why make the effort?

That decision of yours could cost the party that landslide. Or even a majority government.

Besides, only people west of the Atlantic have this benefit. It’s unfair to those for whom the polls close first.

It’s tempting to live-tweet results before polls close, but only in an immature, sophomoric way.

In attempting to “stick it to The Man” (i.e., Elections Canada), those who will do this end up sticking it to each other.

Really: What actual benefit is there in broadcasting the results early? How will that actually help democracy? It won’t.

The closest thing to logic that proponents of breaking the ban have is “We should, because… uh… we can.” Just because we have the technology does not mean we are compelled to use it in every circumstance. The Flying Spaghetti Monster gave you free will.

There is a better idea, of course.

And that’s to have all the polls close at the same time across the country — for instance, 7:00 p.m. in Vancouver and 11:00 p.m. in St. John. Then we wouldn’t have this conundrum.

But until then, resist the urge to publish the election results as they come in until all your fellow citizens have had a chance to vote, unencumbered by exit polls, predictions, and media forecasts.

Our common welfare depends on it.

  1. “Our common welfare depends on it” is overstating it a bit, isn’t it? It’s worth mentioning that none of Australia, Russia or the United States have a blackout law on the books, and that wise men on both sides of the border (Michael Geist and Jay Rosen) think it’s a lousy law.

    A more reasonable solution is to simply not count votes, or publicize those votes, until polls close in the west. That seems like a more democratic option that giving Newfoundlanders more time to vote than British Columbians, doesn’t it?

    It’s an obsolete law–a 20th century law for a 21st century issue. It’s also a bad law, because it’s pretty much unenforceable. I think people should tweet the results as a tiny act of civil disobedience, to demonstrate that the law is untenable, and encourage lawmakers to reform it.

  2. “Our common welfare depends on it” is overstating it a bit, isn’t it? It’s worth mentioning that none of Australia, Russia or the United States have a blackout law on the books, and that wise men on both sides of the border (Michael Geist and Jay Rosen) think it’s a lousy law.

    A more reasonable solution is to simply not count votes, or publicize those votes, until polls close in the west. That seems like a more democratic option that giving Newfoundlanders more time to vote than British Columbians, doesn’t it?

    It’s an obsolete law–a 20th century law for a 21st century issue. It’s also a bad law, because it’s pretty much unenforceable. I think people should tweet the results as a tiny act of civil disobedience, to demonstrate that the law is untenable, and encourage lawmakers to reform it.

  3. Another option is, indeed, to not count votes until later.

    But you’ve sidestepped a key point here — what is the actual VALUE served in tweeting the results? How do we benefit, as a whole, by doing this?

    We don’t post the confidential street addresses of rape-relief shelters, though we have the technology to do it.

    We don’t identify children in criminal cases, though we have the technology to do it.

    Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

  4. Another option is, indeed, to not count votes until later.

    But you’ve sidestepped a key point here — what is the actual VALUE served in tweeting the results? How do we benefit, as a whole, by doing this?

    We don’t post the confidential street addresses of rape-relief shelters, though we have the technology to do it.

    We don’t identify children in criminal cases, though we have the technology to do it.

    Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

  5. In truth, I’m ambivalent about the philosophy of the law itself. I just think it’s obsolete, unenforceable and deserves to be changed. It’s a horse-drawn carriage law when cars have taken over the road.

    Given that other nations don’t sweat this issue, I don’t think it has a significant impact on the outcome of the election.

    In both of the cases you cite, there is a powerful argument for protecting that information–the safety of vulnerable people.

    However, in both those cases, few people know the information you’re trying to keep private. There’s a small pool of those ‘in the know’ who can conspire in the blackout.

    In the case of the election results, it’s a matter of, what, asking about 10 million easterners on social networks to keep a secret from 5 million westerners. That’s a ludicrous notion.

  6. Here semi-randomly, via http://dewline.livejournal.com/393822.html.

    Hypothetically, the actual value for someone on the West Coast could be many.

    I might see a majority government no matter what happens west of Ontario, and so give my vote to the Greens – they can use the two bucks. I might see that the NDP surge is real, and so decide to take a chance and give my vote to them, instead of the Liberals as the best possible anti-Harper move.

    I can think of any number of scenarios in which *more knowledge* might change my vote.

    It’s not fair, but why shouldn’t knowledge equal power?

    Of course, the option of just not counting the ballots until everyone’s cast his and hers makes the most sense. So much so that it will probably become the law of the land sooner than later.

  7. I think you are both right. It’s a self-serving and rather pointless idea to tweet election results from the east coast as they come in (particularly if they call the election before the pacific polls close). HOWEVER: That’s the stuff the internet is made of – lolcatz and laughing baby videos, anybody? It’s true, but we can’t do much about it – self-policing isn’t likely to be successful online.
    I’m more on the side of just avoiding the problem altogether by just not counting ballots until the polls close across the country.

    The problem then would only be dealing with the ire of broadcast media companies who desperately want to dominate the airwaves on election night – instead of later when the interest may be less.

  8. Oh here’s an interesting question… Is the CBC covering this election in Toronto? So technically if Peter Mansbridge in Toronto is reviewing the results in the east coast, isn’t he technically violating the election laws? Or rather isn’t the CBC violating the election laws by informing Peter Mansbridge of the results?

  9. Peter and the team start covering the election as soon as polls close
    in Atlantic Canada, but the show doesn’t actually go on air in each
    region until the polls have closed in that time zone.

  10. That’s not my actual question. I’m not referring to the actual broadcast, but Peter Mansbridge himself. In other words, isn’t it illegal for the reporters in Newfoundland to tell Peter Mansbridge the results of the election before the polls close in Toronto?

    Lets take the far fetched scenario where Peter Mansbridge has yet to vote. If he hears that a certain party is not doing well in Newfoundland, and then decides to change his vote, isn’t that also unfair?

    Just saying. :)

  11. Unfair? Perhaps. But not barred by the Elections Act. A friend of yours in Halifax can email results to you. Person-to-person isn’t addressed by the Elections Act. Only broadcasting.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tod Maffin - Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  2. TamaraStecyk - For @Paulatics: RT @todmaffin: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  3. Wendy Stewart - Agree RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  4. Tod Maffin - Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elxn41
  5. Laurent LaSalle - RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  6. judyrebick - RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  7. Laura Nicol - RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  8. S t a c i e - Good point. RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://t.co/7Bsoc22 #elxn41
  9. Raul Pacheco - Good post, even if I disagree RT @todmaffin: Why Tweeting Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea http://todmaff.in/tweetelection …
  10. mattkirkey - RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elxn41
  11. Paula Simons - RT @tamarastecyk RT @todmaffin: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  12. Deb E - RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  13. Martin Male - A good read RT @todmaffin: Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea http://todmaff.in/eaa36k #elxn41 #cdnpoli
  14. Ben Eadie - I encourage EVERYone with no exception to tweet election results live http://todmaff.in/tweetelection cause laws like this are RETARDED!
  15. Lauren Roberts - RT @EclecticBlogs: A good read RT @todmaffin: Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea http://todmaff.in/eaa36k #elxn41 # …
  16. Michelle Dalrymple - RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elx41
  17. NESTEA | The Recruit - Illegality aside, tweeting election results before they're announced is just a bad idea for democracy. http://ow.ly/4FXhA (via @todmaffin)
  18. Ali Coates - RT @todmaffin: Just posted: "Why Tweeting the Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea" -- http://todmaff.in/tweetelection #elxn41
  19. daryl n cognito - thinking of live tweeting #elxn41? think again http://t.co/QCvXIvT
  20. Meaghan - RT @darylcognito: thinking of live tweeting #elxn41? think again http://t.co/QCvXIvT
  21. rain eater - Pillar of Democracy: Private Ballot. RT.@darylcognito thinking of live tweeting #elxn41? Think again: http://todmaffin.com/tweetelection
  22. Mary O'Callaghan - RT @darylcognito: thinking of live tweeting #elxn41? think again http://t.co/QCvXIvT
  23. Chris Magnusson - RT @darylcognito: thinking of live tweeting #elxn41? think again http://t.co/QCvXIvT
  24. Sarah Campbell - Here is one view on the law about tweeting on election day http://todmaffin.com/tweetelection. Regardless, stay responsible.
  25. Vincci - Why Tweeting Live Election Results is a Stupid Idea http://todmaff.in/eaa36k - I agree waiting to count votes better, but until …
Share This
Real Time Analytics