Wed | Feb 21, 2018

Social media time out as voters go to the polls

Published:Sunday | April 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM
A French police officer patrols with the Eiffel Tower in background in Paris yesterday on the eve of the presidential election.


The final hours of many electoral campaigns are frantic affairs, dominated by last-minute pitches, late-breaking polls and massive social media campaigns aimed at drumming up turnout.

Not so in France.

Rules dating back more than half a century impose a 44-hour time out ahead of the polls' closure today, meaning that politicians, journalists - and even ordinary citizens - had to refrain from broadcasting any form of "electoral propaganda".

The Twitter feeds of France's 11 presidential candidates went quiet after midnight last Friday. French television coverage was subdued. And if you're a journalist who has just received a newsworthy tip about one candidate or the other, you're just too late.

"The press can't publish such a story," said Pascal Jan, a professor of constitutional law at Sciences Po Bordeaux.

"If there were a scandal, it should have been exposed Friday."

The national time out started at midnight last Friday and will run until 8 p.m. today. It is intended to give voters time to reflect on their choice free from the distraction of surveys, radio commentary, and televised rallies.

The rules apply online as well, meaning that candidates and their campaigns can't do so much as post updates to Facebook or Instagram.

The rules even apply to French voters - meaning that someone posting a pro-Socialist or pro-Republican message online could fall afoul of the law, at least in theory.

"It applies to all of us. It's totally forbidden," said Jan, although he acknowledged that, in practice, a single person posting wouldn't be sanctioned for expressing themselves online.

"But if it became massive ... it would unbalance the contest and thus might influence the votes of those who were exposed to social media."