Recently I have noticed a number of candidates and MPs who do not have Authorisation Statements on their social media accounts. I thought I would touch base with the Electoral Commission and see what they had to say.
Under the Electoral Act 1993, an election advertisement is an advertisement in any medium that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to:
- vote or not to vote for a constituency candidate (whether or not the name of the candidate is stated),
- vote or not to vote for a party (whether or not the name of the party is stated),
- vote or not to vote for a type of candidate or party described by reference to views or positions that are, or are not, held or taken (whether or not the name of the candidate or party are stated).
To determine whether a Facebook page is or is not an election advertisement, the Commission looks at the Facebook page as a whole including the candidate and/or party’s posts, and profile photos etc. It is not material to the Commission whether particular content has been provided by the parliamentary party or the political party. What matters is whether or not the Facebook page as a whole would reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading people to vote for a party and/or candidate.
All election advertisements irrespective of when they are published must state the name and address of the person that has initiated or instigated them (‘the promoter’). [See section 204F of the Electoral Act]. Candidate advertisements promoted by a candidate need to include a promoter statement that features the candidate’s name and address.
So it is pretty clear that if you are a candidate, the safer option is to authorise you account. However, a large number of candidates, and MPs, aren’t doing that. There may be some cases where accounts controlled by candidates don’t need to be authorised. Such as candidates who have two accounts, one that is used for campaigning and one that is used for personal tweets. There is also the issue of locked accounts, do they fall within the definition of an election ad or not? I think a case can be made either way, but I will leave it up to the electoral commission to determine if there is any breach of the rules. But it does raise another question around electoral law, and its grasp on social media.
Using the spreadsheet that Ashley Murchison and I have built, I have gone through and checked the Twitter accounts of the candidates for whom we have details. The overall results are:
Only one of the parties achieves 100% authorisation, Act, who only have 4 candidates on Twitter. As a percentage National has the next best coverage, at 89.6%. Followed by the Greens on 75%,
Labour just manage to make it over 50%, While I was collecting data, Labour were doing a tidy up, they have now got 80.4% authorised, with the Maori Party down at 33%, and Mana and United bring up the rear with 0%. Disclaimer: Labour and National both have a single locked account in their figures. National’s is authorised, Labour’s isn’t, which kinda proves the above point, so do take that into account when looking at the figures.
Below are screen grabs of the top of the Twitter profiles of all the MPs or Candidates who haven’t authorised their Twitter accounts:
The gaps are caused by the removal of the accounts that Labour tidied up between data collection and the time this post was published.