Police investigation of Sean Plunket’s Election Day tweets a waste of time

Two reasons the law needs to change.

The Electoral Commission has referred four Election Day "social media incidents" to police.

Two of the incidents are tweets by TOP communications director Sean Plunket (the commission would not name the perpetrators of the other posts).

He now faces a fine of up to $20,000.

I’m not a huge fan of Mr Plunket, who made various boorish tweets during the campaign, enabling TOP leader Gareth Morgan’s worst instincts.

But TOP paid a price for those, as people interested in its policy turned away.

Investigating his tweets on September 23 (a couple of lame dad-jokes incorporating the word “top”) will be a waste of police time and money.

Crown Law can pore over his wordplay, and Sergeant Plod can try to find a voter who was actually influenced by it. Regardless of their success, recent history indicates the result will be a warning letter.

Above: Exhibit A for the prosecution

The Electoral Act (1993) forbids the publishing of “any statement advising or intended or likely to influence any elector as to the candidate or party for whom the elector should or should not vote,” before polls close on election day.

If he is of a mind, Mr Plunket could probably argue the toss over whether a tweet constitutes publishing (the act’s quaint language refers to such media as the “loudspeaker … cinematograph or television apparatus”).

But there are a couple of broader issues here that it will be worth the next government reviewing:

1. More than 1.2 million people cast an advance vote. That’s more than the number who voted on election day when the advertising and broadcast rules protected tender minds. We need consistency (although, if nothing else, it was quite restful to have a few hours without political braying on September 23).

2.  People can refrain from tweeting on Election Day but social media platforms don’t stick to chronological representation. When you open Twitter, for example, it shows you a series of “In case you missed it” tweets, and Facebook often shows you the posts it thinks you’ll be most interested in (which could be from the previous day) rather than the latest.  

Any review that does take place will have to consider that social media is more difficult to control than a cinematograph or television apparatus.

POSTSCRiPT: Other naughty election day tweets included:

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