The 25 Thousand Dollar Tweet #tweettheresults

#tweettheresults hashtag on Twitter – official protest hashtag

We’ve seen people lose their job over Tweets and we’ve seen them get jobs through Tweets. We’ve seen marriage proposals and divorce notifications. We’ve even see Charlie Sheen earn six figures for a tweet.

Now, we might just see the balance in someone’s bank account change as political tweeters in Canada openly plan to disregard the election “Twitter blackout”  law and could land themselves with a 25,000 dollar fine.

Canadian officials plan to enforce a 73 year old law that slaps a person who “prematurely releases election results” with the penalty.Originally intended to keep voting in the east from influencing that in western Canada by not allowing the “transmission of election results” across time zones, critics say this was created before social media. Canada has six as the world’s second largest country.

#tweettheresults hashtag was in use by yesterday afternoon and some are planning a “Tweet in.”

This would make a fascinating case study for a government, civics, technology or journalism course at the high school or college level. Let’s drill down. Here are the questions I’d discuss (please leave yours in the comments):

1) What is premature?

  • I guess the question is – what is premature? 
    • If someone is standing at a courthouse and a government official announces a result and yet it hasn’t gone online yet — is that premature? 
    • Premature compared to what?
  • What if a candidate has just been told by an elections official that they won and tweet out a thank you to their followers?
    • What if they email it and a person they email to happens to be in western Canada at the time?
  • Twitter is so lightning fast and connected to so many people, I guess this example begs to answer – what is official? 
    • What makes a tweet “premature?”
  • Don’t candidates hold press conferences and thank you events after the results are announced – do they have to wait to hold these in the east until the polls close in the west?
    • Aren’t these covered on TV already? 
    • What if someone live streams it?

2) How does this impact “the scoop?”

  • Traditionally a quick tweet gives you a “scoop” and that is a good thing for many in political arenas.

3) Can this be enforced?

  • Hypothetically, Canadian Tweeters could learn from our Chinese friends and install a nice proxy software like Astrill, set up a new email and new Twitter account and just tweet from that. Then, others would just retweet it.
  • Would retweeters be punished too?
  • What if a person INSIDE Canada has a friend in the US or Europe, for example, and gets on skype and tells them the results and THEY post the tweet without the permission or knowledge of the original source inside Canada?
  • Is Canada going to lock down all electronic transmissions in order to enforce this law? 
  • A complete technology blackout on election day?

4) If they COULD enforce, HOW would they?

  • Would a whole “Twitter enforcement bureau” need to be set up? 
  • Is it worth the cost?

5) How should this law be written? Should polling change?

It would be interesting to draft the law as it SHOULD be written to incorporate social media impacts and this valid concern of keeping poll rates high in the western part of the country and letting everyone’s vote count.

  • Should polls open earlier in the west? 
  • Should polls all have the same times across the country?
  • The law was put in place for a reason – assume the reason is still valid, how would this look in the age of social media?

6) Live Blog Election Coverage from Outside Canada

  • It would be a fascinating live journalism experience to have students follow the #tweettheresults hashtag and what is happening to understand the impact?
  • Would such an experience actually “do the research” for those in Canada planning the fines and harm those who are speaking out against this law?
  • Would the methods used in your research be emulated by others who are using social media “enforcement” to stamp out rebellion?

 7) Your Belief

  • Would you tweet if you knew it would cost you 25,000?
  • What if you knew the technologies put in place would change the outcome of social media used in protests in other countries?

 Students learn more from tearing apart current events than a two hour lecture about abstract tasks. If you teach subjects that hit on government or participatory media – I challenge you to “get out of the box” and find some neat ways to tear this one apart. If you do it, please share your thoughts/ blogs / lesson plans with a link below!

I wouldn’t put it past super blogger Stephen Downes to buck the system on this one just to see it done.

Hey, Canada, on May 2nd, the world is watching. Are you going to pioneer the use of tools to enforce this law that could be used by more repressive regimes?

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5 thoughts on “The 25 Thousand Dollar Tweet #tweettheresults

  1. I don’t like the idea of releasing results of national elections before the polls close. On the other hand I worry about people who decide to vote or not depending on what others have already done. I understand the idea that perhaps things are decided so that a new vote is somehow wasted. On the other hand expressing an opinion one way or another is not, in my opinion, a waste no matter what the outcome of the election. So the whole principle of the thing is messy. And then there is the whole free speech issue. I know Canada is not the US but my biases are formed from where I live and so the idea of the government having too much say on what people say, electronically or otherwise, rubs me the wrong way. So all in all, I’m not 100% sure where I stand on this issue. Perhaps the answer is to keep the polls open longer regardless of the other costs.

  2. I tend to agree with you – just open the polls earlier in the west and keep them open later in the east and announce at the same time. It isn’t easy (my mom is a pollworker and it is a really tough job) but it makes more sense than anything else.

    No easy answers here – that is why it is such apowerful topic to discuss.

  3. What a great run-down of the issues! Speaking as a Canadian with some comparative perspective, I can say that it would be extremely unlikely for Canada to impose an online blackout on e-day. This law may seem a bit peculiar from an American perspective (I’m an American, too, so I get it!) but our political culture is still close enough that an Internet shutdown is about as unimaginable here as it is there. It may help folks to understand the law if they realize it’s in the context of some fairly longstanding tensions around the relative influence of different provinces and regions (beginning but not ending with Quebec), so keeping election results under wraps until BC votes is part of making people out west (like me) not feel so left out. (Of course, there are more elaborate ways of putting that, but this is what it comes down to.)

    That said, as a social media junkie, I don’t think it really matters whether you think the law is wise or not: it’s over. I’m very interested in how this will all unfold online (I’m a political scientist, and research the Internet) so a colleague of mine and I have set up a site that is aggregating the main hashtag being used by the Twitter protest. You can check it out at http://tweettheresults.ca

    And I’ll look forward to pointing people this way for a summary of the issues that have cross-national interest!

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