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Our election laws and social media

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Rapid developments in information communication technology continue to challenge the applicability and practicality of many of our current laws and accepted practices.

We speak quite a bit about the technological advances we have made as a society, but often, it takes a mishap or some breach in a particular area before we recognize the gap that exists there and/or the need to shift the rest of society to keep up with these modern trends.{{more}}

For example, many sections of our Constitution need to be brought into line with modern-day realities and developments. The nature of our society is being changed as a result of social and technological changes, but at the political level there has been a failure to adjust, to accommodate all that is happening around us.

In recent elections around the Caribbean, it has been reported that on polling day itself, messages had been sent out by social media exhorting persons to vote for particular candidates.

Now, under the laws which guide the conduct of elections here, there is a total ban on campaigning and canvassing for votes on Election Day. One cannot exhibit posters supportive of any party or candidate or even wear T-shirts, or brandish electoral symbols until the close of the poll. There are also regulations governing the gathering of crowds, broadcasting, and even the sale of alcohol on the ‘Big Day’.

That was then, but we live in now, the time of Whatsapp, Facebook, texting and such other means of instant communication. So, while it is legally forbidden to solicit votes by traditional means on Election Day, is there any legislation to stop a person from using social media to encourage voters to cast ballots in the favour of a particular candidate or party on that day? When the election regulations were being framed, who knew of Facebook or Whatsapp?

We live in a society which is already full of abuse of the social media. Politics is not immune to this development; indeed, many of the glaring examples of this abuse are in the political realm.

Admirable efforts have already been made to bring the laws of our country into the technological age. Parliament has enacted legislation to establish a code of conduct for e-commerce, and to facilitate e-filing, the recognition of electronic documents, electronic signatures and electronic transactions. However, the legislation with governs the conduct of elections here, the Representation of the People Act, has not yet made the leap into the electronic age.

It likely is too late for amendments to our legislation to be passed prior to our next general elections, but is it not in the public interest, and in the interest of the conduct of free and fair elections, to take account of the limitations which exist in current laws and devise mechanisms to deal with them going forward?

With the law in its present state, we can brace ourselves for post-election accusations, allegations and recriminations concerning the abuse of the social media on Election Day and how it affected the outcome.

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