French Twitter and Facebook Users Warned Against Posting Election Exit Polls

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Kim Wilsher of The Guardian is reporting on the conflict between the instant communication social media enables and the French government. With the French presidential election beginning this week, there are worries that a French law designed to prevent the media from influencing elections could also be invoked against individual citizens who use their Twitter or Facebook accounts to publish election results before polls close.

The issue was highlighted by the Journal du Dimanche, a weekly French newspaper published on Sundays. Though the law is old and written for larger media publishers, "sending a tweet or posting a message on a Facebook profile falls within the law," the Journal du Dimanche quotes Mattias Guyomar, a Government Commissioner, as saying.

French law prohibits the media from publishing exit poll results until the close of voting. With 5.2 million French Twitter users and 40 million French Facebook users, more than half the population of France are, effectively, potential publishers. Persons who broadcast results could be prosecuted and face fines of up to 75,000 euros. The law is based upon the idea that knowing the early results of voting might influence voters who are late to vote.

According to the the Journal du Dimanche, the worst-case-scenario for an internet leak of exit poll results would be the cancellation of the entire election. If the final election results are close enough, the losing candidate would be "entitled to file and appeal with the Constitutional Council" to have the election results nullified.

It's an interesting conundrum, and I will be very interested to see how both traditional media and the French government handle the inevitable leaks. Will the larger news networks report what most people in France will already know because of social media? Will French prosecutors actually prosecute Twitter or Facebook users to set an example? I find these stories of the direct clash between aging institutions and new media to be fascinating. What do you think? Leave a comment or suggestion (in English or French) below.

(picture from the official French Twitter account)