Elections Canada, you're going about this all wrongWant to stop election-night tweeting? Appeal to online culture

Share |

Hi, Elections Canada. We go back a long way, you and me. I'm the kid who had your colour-coded riding map masking-taped to my bedroom wall.

So let me offer some friendly advice. You want to stop people from tweeting election results from Eastern Canada before folks in Western Canada have had a chance to cast their ballots?

Then don't use section 329 of the Canada Elections Act. The full weight of the law is way too blunt an instrument.

Instead, think about the medium. You’re trying to get people to change their online behaviour, right? So look to the social mores and codes of conduct that govern behaviour on the Internet.

And on the Internet, there are few sins more egregious, few offences less forgivable, than the spoiler.

By “spoiler”, I mean a post that gives away a key plot point or twist from a TV show, movie or — yes, even in 2011 — book before it’s common knowledge. And unless you take measures to prevent people from stumbling onto it and spoiling the surprise, you pay a heavy social price for posting one. (Most recently, an extra on the hit show Glee recently tweeted a massive spoiler about the show that brought the almighty wrath of the Intertubes down on her head.)

People on the West Coast resent seeing spoilers on Twitter the night of a big Grey’s Anatomy or Chuck episode. So why not position election night returns the same way? Play up the suspense, the drama, the thrills and chills that westerners will miss out on if those eastern swine insist on ruining the ending. (If there was ever a time to manipulate regional grievances toward a public policy goal, this is it.)

Next, encourage the use of the #tweettheresults hashtag… and then educate users on how to filter it out of their Twitter feeds for the hours between the closing of polls in Newfoundland and the end of voting in B.C. and Yukon. (As an added bonus, promote tools like the Canadian-made HootSuite, which lets you do that kind of filtering easily.)

(Speaking of #tweettheresults, check out TweetTheResults.ca, the site that Alexandra Samuel and Darren Barefoot created to capture the conversation around this issue.)

Then publicize ways people can conceal spoilers on forums and blogs (if they’re still using such antiquated technologies) from the eyes of casual readers:

  • the famed invisio-text markup that many forums like to use (which makes the text the same color as the background, requiring people to select the text with their cursor to read it)
  • a “Spoilers follow!” warning, followed by spoiler space: two dozen or so hard carriage returns, to push the spoiler text below the screen; readers must deliberately scroll down to read it
  • for the slightly geeky, a combination of JavaScript and CSS that lets you hide information unless a reader clicks on a link.

The result? Casual online folks won’t accidentally discover early results, and the people who were actively seeking them out can still find them — but it’ll take roughly as much effort as phoning, texting or emailing an eastern friend or relative.

You’re welcome.


Anonymous says

May 4, 2011 - 11:38am

How do you filter a tweeter feed?

Social Signal on...

RSS feedTwitterFacebookGoogle+

Work Smarter with Evernote

Get more out of Evernote with Alexandra Samuel's great new ebook, the first in the Harvard Business Press Work Smarter with Social Media series!

Available on Amazon, iTunes and HBR.

Join Newsletter

Rob on Twitter