Revealed: the election day social media comments referred to police

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut, Uncategorized

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5th March, 2012 3 comments

But who will crack down on underage voting?

About those police referrals for social media remarks on election day: in the wake of last week’s post about the “comments” that the Electoral Commission has provided to police for investigation, I’ve heard from the person responsible for the complaints that led to four of the five referrals.

The complaints that have been referred to the constabulary for potential breach of the Electoral Act, which prohibits on election-day statements that may influence other voters (see earlier posts for more detail), include two Facebook status updates, one Facebook comment, and one Twitter post.

The complainant, whom I’ve agreed not to name, made 40 complaints to the Electoral Commission, all but three relating to social media. The Commission, he says, appears to have plucked out the most direct exhortations to vote a particular way.

In a letter advising the complainant of the police referrals, the chief electoral officer, Robert Peden, writes:

In the Commission’s view the other comments published on social media on election day that you have brought to our attention do not amount to statements that were 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.

Why all the complaints? “I thought the law was quite funny … It kind of became a big joke on the day.”

The complainant and a group of “two or three” friends embarked on a fishing expedition, browsing Facebook and searching Twitter to find potential breaches of the Electoral Act.

It was an “experiment”, he says. While he supports the thrust of the law, it “doesn’t work in the Facebook-Twitter age” – though “it could work better if there were way better education”.

Of the four complaints that are now in the hands of the police, the partisan positions are evenly split. One is from an ACT advocate, one from a National supporter, one who voted Labour/Green and urged others to oust National, and one who posted about the referendum on electoral reform.

The complainant says he was not motivated by any party allegiance, and voted tactically in an effort to see National returned to power with a reduced majority.

The tweet is especially interesting. It begins, “Just voted,” going on to urge Auckland Central voters to oust John Key and Nikki Kaye, because “they suck”. That’s the less interesting bit. More interesting is that it is from a pseudonymous Twitter account. The tweeter in question has fewer than 400 followers. The tweet is still there today.

In a sense, the tweet is analogous to a graffito, signed with a tagger’s name. Would the police investigate that?

One of the Facebook comments that has been referred to police was made by a friend of the complainant. Not a close friend – probably not a friend at all any longer.

The remark, says the complainant, went something like, “Any vote not for National is a vote for Labour.”

The complainant got in touch with him on election day. “I told him he was not allowed to say that. He said: ‘Well, we’ll see what the police do.’ So I guess we will see, won’t we? … He shouldn’t have dared me to do it.”

So there you have it. And, indeed, let’s see what the police do.

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3 Responses to “Revealed: the election day social media comments referred to police”

  1. Bruce Thorpe Mar 5 2012, 3:00pm

    Time we dropped this odd bit of legislation.
    There seems to me to be no good reason for it.
    I am totally against intimidation, or similar and perhaps could be banned within 100 metres of polling booth perhaps.
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  2. Richard d’Rich Mar 5 2012, 11:30am

    I wonder whether Twitter will co-operate in providing identifying details for an anonymous domain?

    The election speech laws have no analogue in the US, and would almost certainly be unconstitutional.
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    • Toby Manhire Mar 5 2012, 11:37am

      There isn't to my knowledge a precedent for this - though Twitter has in past been forced to hand over details related to WLeaks, and also in relation to a UK libel case. I think the NZ police might have to go via a US court, which seems unlikely. Clearly they're on good speaking terms with the Dept of Justice, mind you ...
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