If you still have any vague memories of this spring’s federal election campaign, you may be recall that Elections Canada attempted to enforce a ban on the “tweeting” and “Facebooking” of any regional election results before the polls had closed in British Columbia. It also banned mainstream media outlets from reporting such results on their commercial websites.
It was an antediluvian notion, which completely failed to grasp the way that social media and the Web have changed the way Canadians report upon and discuss the news. It was, in fact, a noxious attempt to censor political speech in the name of regional equity – as though western Canadians had a constitutional right or duty to be kept in ignorance of what was happening in the rest of their country.
It wasn’t wholly Elections Canada’s fault, of course. It was the Harper government which failed to amend the offending, and offensive legislation, despite the fact that Stephen Harper himself had railed against it back when he ran the National Citizens’ Coalition.
But in its new report on the conduct of the 2011 federal election, Elections Canada had some words of wisdom for Canadians, especially Canadian parliamentarians, about the future of such reporting bans, in a social media future.
“…(S)ocial media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter – is transforming communications both outside and during elections,” says the report. “In this rapidly evolving context, the relevance of the existing legal framework must be reconsidered. The 41st general election showed the need for re-examination, especially of two aspects of the regime: the premature transmission of election results, prohibited under section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, and the regulation of third party election advertising.”
“….the growing use of social media puts in question not only the practical enforceability of the rule, but also its very intelligibility and usefulness in a world where the distinction between private communication and public transmission is quickly eroding.”
Exactly. In a world where everyone is a “reporter” and private speech is carried on over public, visible and accessible networks, the rules which were designed to govern print and broadcast media not longer work. And so, the Chief Electoral Officer is wisely advising Parliament “to consider revoking the current rule.”