The example in question is yesterday’s presidential election in France. Under French law, there are strict bans (with severe fines of up to 75,000 euros for anyone breaching them) on any kind of public communication on the day of a presidential election up until the time voting booths close at 8pm:
- no polls can be published
- no electoral publications can be circulated
- no broadcasts can be made.
For this election, it was made clear by the authorities that this ban extended to social media. Now, there have always been ways of by-passing the ban: the media of other Francophone countries (for example, Belgium and Switzerland) have not been able to be prevented from continuing their coverage on election day. And French citizens have been able to access these.
But this time, making it clear that they found the French laws outdated and inappropriate for today, creative Tweeters found their own ways of circumventing the law, using fairly obvious coded references to the various candidates, including:
- ‘Gouda’ for Francois Hollande
- ‘Rolex’ for Sarkozy.
In homage to codes broadcast to Resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied France from the BBC during World War II, tweeters yesterday used the hashtag #RadioLondres and it became the top France trend on Twitter for the day.
What’s clear to me is that it’s human nature not to like being told you can’t do something – especially if the ban doesn’t make any sense to you. And social media like Twitter gives individuals new opportunities to do their own thing in the face of what they see as nonsensical and old-fashioned restrictions.
Late last night, the French authorities were making noises suggesting they would prosecute, though it isn’t yet clear who they will target. It will be really interesting to see if any tweeters are targeted – and what happens next…
Whatever the legal outcome, the lesson to us is clear: if you want to engage with people, control at your peril!
- Frustrated Twitter users circumvent French election law: http://www.france24.com/en/20120422-frustrated-twitter-users-circumvent-french-election-law-world-war-two-codes?ns_campaign=editorial&ns_source=RSS_public&ns_mchannel=RSS&ns_fee=0&ns_linkname=20120422_frustrated_twitter_users_circumvent_french_election
- The Guardian’s update on reactions to the election (including intention to prosecute): http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/french-election-blog-2012/2012/apr/23/french-elections-2012-france-reaction?newsfeed=true
- New York Times about the use of Twitter on Sunday: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/23/world/europe/french-use-twitter-to-share-early-election-results.html?_r=2&ref=world
- Some of the best of yesterday’s tweets (warning: in French): http://www.gizmodo.fr/2012/04/22/les-meilleurs-tweets-de-radiolondres.html
- Wikipedia on French elections: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_France