There’s been some tizzy over the last few days about people posting and sharing pictures online of selfies not only of ballot papers but filled in postal votes. Some say you should be jailed for it, others say it is harmless. I think it’s the finest expression of personal democracy.
A wiser man than me called Ian Cairns once pointed out that democracy isn’t the right to vote – it’s the right to choose to vote. There’s a subtle difference and it’s hard to argue with.
Democracy is not about the vote, it’s about you being able to participate in society and its politics in any way you choose:
- You want to vote, you have the freedom to do so
- You want to tell the world how you voted, free from state persecution, you have the freedom to do so
- You want to keep your vote a secret and tell no-one? You have the freedom to do so.
- You don’t want to vote, you have the freedom to chose not to
- You think they are all rotten and want to stand for Government/Council/PTA yourself? You have the freedom to chose so.
- And democracy also means you have to respect the (non-violent) rights of others even if you disagree
And not only do you have the freedom, you have the right. That’s democracy, that’s the right every person has in this country. If you live in a true democracy, the right not to vote is every part as valid as the right to vote. And the word here to remember is that it is your vote to do with as you want (except sell).
Digital expression has been used by many groups to gain further acceptance or legitmacy. It has helped 17 year olds with acne take on the world, it has raised awareness and money for charities and made unlikely celebrities.
Digital in this day and age is not about bytes or ones and zeros: it’s about sharing. The phrase Web 2.0 may be an overblown cliche but one fact from it is that people like to share things – from what would once have been considered private to the obvious.
But people share, often for free. We share love, we share kindness, we share information and sadly sometimes we also share hate but we share – and we will continue to share.
And that includes sharing pictures that reveal how people are posting.
At the time of typing this, there seems to be confusion over what is legal and what is not but I think it would be a hard thing for the Electoral Commission or others to consider penalising those who go online and reveal their own vote or share the an already public vote image. Here’s why:
- Let’s be honest, it just wouldn’t be British in the noblest sense of the word. Expressing a democratic opinion peacefully? You’d fine or jail someone for that?
- In the Terms and Conditions of most social media sites people accept that they give up the right to privacy with the material they share online.
- By extension, most people now know that what they post publicly is there for the world to see (because changing privacy settings isn’t too hard on these channels)
- Technically, hosting these images may make Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Kiltr, YouTube and others also liable as publishers (depending on the interpretation of Terms and Conditions) – you’d take them on?
- Given that the majority of pictures posted so far seem to be backing Yes in the vote, can you imagine the cries of paranoid cybernats calling political consipiracy theory if the state chased these people up?
- Equally, you would remove someone’s vote as valid because they posted it online? That’s democracy? No, it sounds more like a Burnistoun or Limmy sketch (“The Yes side won but because Big Tam in Govan and Mary D’oll from Partick posted their Yes votes online, we’ve ruled them out and the No’s win.”)
Democracy. People die for it, people die for the right to vote, people die for political expression. Come September 18 that won’t happen to you. You can vote and tell the world or not. That’s your choice, that’s your right.