Tweet, Tweet – You’re Under Arrest!

Yesterday was Election Day here in Canada. Despite a dramatic finish, featuring an unprecedented push by the New Democratic Party (social democrats) to finish a strong second, the Conservative Party won a majority of the seats in our House of Commons and will form our government for the next four years.

As I was watching television last night, one of the storylines the commentators were tracking was the emergence of social media and, more specifically, how individuals who “broadcast” election results on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other platforms could be breaking the law. The penalties are severe, with possible fines of up to $25,000.

You see, Canada is a huge country, spanning four and a half hours of time zones. Polls close here on the east coast several hours before our friends on the west coast must stop casting their ballots. As soon as the polls close here in the east we start to see results broadcast on TV and other local media. For many years, however, our government has had a law that prohibits the local broadcast of election results until after the polls close, meaning that broadcasters to the west of us were prohibited from releasing results until after the polls closed locally. This effectively meant that there was a cascade of election programming that made its way from east to west.

Of course, the world has changed since this particular part of the election act was made law. Back then TV was local. We were lucky to have half a dozen stations even in the largest centers. Now I can sit at home and watch TV originating from across the country and around the world. Of course, the satellite and cable TV providers are required to black out any programming that might reveal the results.

However, the REAL change is the emergence of social media and participatory journalism. As individuals become more comfortable and demand access to information, rules that threaten such draconian reactions have reached their best before date. I understand the intent – but it just isn’t practical anymore.

As citizens of democratic countries, we are highly critical when foreign governments use censorship and limit access to information for political reasons. We demand that citizens of those countries be given their rights and be respected and valued as engaged citizens with a share in their countries fortunes.

The idea that individuals on the west coast might be swayed and need to be protected from the results to the east just doesn’t hold much weight in the new world. The digital platform of the web – and the increasingly ubiquitous connectivity provided through the mobile web – makes it easy to get results. But it’s more than that. I give my fellow citizens credit and expect that they would weigh the candidates on their own merits (which might include the policies of their affiliated national parties) and not simply react to a wave of media reports.

Message to the government: the world has changed. The law is irrelevant in today’s world. Show citizens some respect as recognize them as educated individuals who are able to make up their own minds without requiring protection from the state. Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you want to look at web-based voting options to engage more young people. Just a thought.

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