In France it is forbidden to publish “by any means” the results of electoral surveys the day before and the day of voting. In the run up to this year’s presidential election the State prosecutor’s office were quick to remind news outlets and the general public that it would impose the €75,000 fine on anyone breaking this 35 year old law.
Determined not to be silenced, it didn’t take Twitter users long to come up with an alternative plan using the hashtag RadioLondres, originally a war time broadcast from London to occupied France during WWII to counter Nazi propaganda and deliver coded messages to the French resistance. Soon enough tweeters got into the war time spirit and made up their own humorous codes for others to decipher.
As the hours started to tick away on the final election day it soon became apparent that it wasn’t just politically minded citizens using the hashtag, but spammers and malware writers were also taking advantage of the number of people following Twitter’s trending topic. With Tweets abound with funny images – my favourite is the red Ferraris heading across the Swiss border, it was easy to see that caught up in the drama of the election many people would be tricked into clicking a bad link. According to a recent article in The Register cybercrooks are moving away from using email to carry out spamming and social engineering attacks and focusing more on social media, something that is very apparent if you’re a regular watcher of trending topics.
But what really got me thinking was what would be the legal implications for an organization of someone using their work laptop to post or retweet “illegal” content. And would it matter if they were in a different country? In the UK it would come under Vicarious Liability and it appears that France has a similar law under Responsabilité du fait d’autrui. Vicarious Liability makes an organisation responsible for the actions of its employees during the course of their employment and would include using work equipment and the fact that such an action maybe expressly forbidden is not necessarily a defence.
Fortunately it seems as if French Prosecutors have decided not to pursue the people that might have infringed the law, though quite how they expect to enforce it the future remains to be seen. Communication and broadcast technology has changed beyond all recognition from when the law was introduced in 1977 and rather ironically measuring social media sentiment, could be the new opinion poll.
Earlier that week across “La Manche”, the London Mayoral Elections were taking place. In the UK there are no such restrictions on reporting exit polls and one firm predicted the Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone split fairly closely by analysing social media conversations. Though the methodology is still in the early stages to be as accurate as the current exit polls it’s interesting to see how social media is affecting our lives in sometimes surprising ways.