B.C. Liberals violate Election Act with Twitter posts

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The B.C. Liberals and other parties posted messages on Twitter on May 12, the day of the provincial general election, in violation of the B.C. Election Act.

Elections B.C. has said that the B.C. Liberal Party has violated section 233 of the province’s Election Act by posting campaign messages on Twitter on election day. A look at the microblogging Web site suggests that other organizations have done the same.

Section 233 of the Act states: “On General Voting Day, election advertising must not be published, transmitted or broadcast in an electoral district until the close of all voting stations in the electoral district.”

On May 12, the B.C. Liberal Party’s Twitter account, @bcliberalparty, posted messages on Twitter promoting the party and broadcasting negative messages related to the NDP.

The last message posted by @bcliberalparty was sent on May 12 at around 9:30 a.m. The message read: “The BC Liberals are the best choice to build B.C.: http://tinyurl.com/dmy3mq #bcelection”.

That message has since been deleted.

Kenn Faris, spokesperson for Elections B.C., told the Straight that Elections B.C. met with the B.C. Liberal Party and the NDP at the outset of the election and explained that tweeting would not be allowed on election day.

“We were informed about the B.C. Liberal’s tweeting this morning,” Faris said. “We found out about it around 10:30 and right after that, we called the party to advise them that Twitter falls under section 233 and is prohibited on general voting day.”

The NDP’s general Twitter account, @bcndp, ceased posting messages on Twitter on May 11 at 12:53 p.m.

David Bieber, spokesperson for the B.C. NDP, left a message on the Straight’s voicemail saying that it was the NDP’s understanding that under the Election Act, tweets are not allowed on election day.

“We are respecting the Act and staying silent until after the polls close at 8 p.m.,” he said.

Under the Election Act, individuals or parties found to have violated section 233 of the Act are liable for a fine of up to $10,000 or up to one year in prison, according to Faris. A penalty for violating section 233 is issued at the discretion of B.C.’s chief electoral officer.

Because the Liberals responded to Elections B.C.’s request in a timely manner, Faris said, the matter would not be pursued and the Liberal Party will not be punished.

In the morning of May 12, Chad Peterson, communications manager for the B.C. Liberal Party, confirmed to the Straight that the @bcliberalparty account continued to post messages on May 12. But Peterson said that he couldn’t say whether the party had been contacted by Elections B.C. or not. Subsequent calls from the Straight were not returned.

British Columbians for BC-STV, an electoral-reform campaign organization, also continued posting messages on May 12 via its Twitter account @BCSTV, until 11:30 a.m. Although May 12 tweets were deleted from BC-STV’s Twitter account, messages posted on May 12 can still be viewed at search.twitter.com, which indexes messages posted to Twitter.

Shoni Field, spokersperson for BC-STV, told the Straight that the campaign had continued to post messages on Twitter on election day.

“All I can say is we have not heard anything from Elections B.C. on it,” she said in a telephone interview. “Social media is obviously a big part of elections campaigns and political party communications now and we’ve heard nothing specific from Elections B.C. with regards to Twitter.”

The B.C. Green party’s general Twitter account, @BCGreens, continued to post campaign-related messages on May 12 at least until around 1 p.m.

The Liberal party’s violation of the Election Act was brought to the Straight’s attention by Adele Kirwer, a Vancouver-based Internet production specialist. Kirwer told the Straight that when she signed on to Twitter this morning, she saw that the Liberal party was still posting messages and suspected that this contravened the Election Act.

Kirwer said she called Elections B.C. to express her concern. A spokesperson responded by explaining that Twitter was a new medium that the regulatory body was learning to deal with but that everybody was expected to play by the rules.

Faris told the Straight that how Elections B.C. governs campaign advertising changes from year to year.

“Because of evolving technology, our interpretations are evolving as well,” he said. “Following each election experience, we make recommendations to the legislature for changes or further clarity. And then whatever changes get passed are given to us for the future.”

You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.



Shane Gibson

May 12, 2009 at 4:48pm

It was good that you pointed out that more than one party violated the act although the title of your article made it seem like only the Liberals did so.

One issue I have with the act is that it groups twitter in with other forms of media. Are the parties allowed to use the phone and call constituents in their riding on election day? Can they talk one on one to people? Twitter is a bi-directional communications tool that is very personal, more like a networking function or phone call than a TV ad. I get the fact that it can be misused as a broadcast medium, but I hate to see it grouped in with other tools.

Also there a lot of fake or anonymous twitter accounts that have been created that are anti-liberal and anti-ndp that continue to tweet. This anonymous tweeting could also be the work of a party or an organized labor group. What should be done to hold these people accountable? Better yet why if they're such big supporters do they hide their true identity?


May 12, 2009 at 5:30pm

Elections BC would not win on this.

They can say whatever they want, but section 2(b) of the charter would kick in and there is no way they can regulate unpaid social media. I changed my facebook status today, you better go after me as well.

Travis Lupick

May 12, 2009 at 5:48pm

More from Kenn Faris, spokesperson for Elections BC: "The ruling we have here is that if an organization is doing the tweeting and that promotes or opposes, directly or indirectly, a political party or candidate, that would be transmitting election advertising and it is prohibiting on general voting day by section 233. And we have actually told the NDP and Liberals, at least, to my knowledge, that they cannot tweet today. The parties cannot tweet today. But individuals who are expressing their personal political views, tweeting or otherwise, can do that."

Tom W

May 12, 2009 at 6:08pm

There were liberals campaigning with signs on the Seawall in Coal Harbour at lunch today too. When I asked if they knew they were breaking the law, they said there was no law against campaigning on election day. Should've gotten some names and taken some photos. :(

Travis Lupick

May 12, 2009 at 6:25pm

Section 233 of the B.C. Election Act states that campaign advertising restrictions on election day do not apply to "the distribution on general voting day of pamphlets or the posting of messages on signs, posters or banners". See <a href="http://www.bclaws.ca/Recon/document/freeside/-- e --/election act rsbc 1996 c. 106/00_act/96106_00.htm" target="_blank">BC Election Act</a>.

So television, electronic media = bad. Paper, signs = good.


May 13, 2009 at 11:00am

when the Liberals don't heed the laws regarding worker contracts (HEU), procurement (BCRail), drunk driving (Gordo), or speeding (van Dongen), what makes anyone think they'd give a poop about these silly election rules that are part of our fair basis for democracy?
The Greens get a severe shaking of the finger as well, tsk tsk