German officials probe Twitter election 'leaks'

29th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

It is illegal to make public exit poll data before voting has finished because people who have yet to cast their ballot could be influenced.

Berlin -- German officials were investigating on Monday how broadly accurate results of the country's election appeared on microblogging website Twitter before polling stations closed.

Dozens of short messages appeared on the site before voting ended at 6:00 pm local Sunday, many of which had data very close to the scores revealed by the official exit polls.

It is illegal to make public exit poll data before voting has finished because people who have yet to cast their ballot could be influenced.

Those breaking this law face fines of up to 50,000 euros (73,000 dollars). In extreme cases, premature exit poll results could lead to legal challenges against the election result.

Although several "tweets" -- the name given to the messages of less than 140 characters posted on Twitter -- had figures that corresponded closely to the final results, others were way off the mark, however.

A spokesman for the federal election commission said a special team had been formed to ascertain whether actual figures obtained from pollsters were leaked.

But experts were divided as to how much influence a premature publication of exit poll data could have.

"We need to act energetically against people that publish actual results," constitutional lawyer Joerg Ipsen, from the University of Osnabrueck, told AFP.

"Otherwise the freedom and the secrecy of the election are in danger."

Margreth Luenenborg, a media expert at the Free University in Berlin, had a different view.

"I think this door can no longer be closed," she said.

"I reckon that voters are mature enough to handle pre-published results," she told AFP.

German politicians were enraged in late August when exit polls for state elections were leaked early on Twitter before voting ended.

At the time, the deputy parliamentary head of Merkel's Christian Democrats, Wolfgang Bosbach, said the leaking of the results "damaged democracy."

But not all Twitter users, alias Tweeters, were taking it all so seriously on Sunday.

Early on election-day morning, people began publishing farcical results in jest, with many giving the Internet-friendly Pirate party an impossible double-digit score.

Another Tweeter wrote: "Forecast for my work ethic next week: Monday, 55 percent, Tuesday, 23.5 percent, Wednesday 10 percent, Thursday, seven percent, Friday 4.5 percent."

For the record, official results showed Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats clinch 33.8 percent and her partners the Free Democrats on 14.6 percent, handing her preferred centre-right coalition a clear mandate.

Her rival centre-left Social Democrats registered what their candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier decried as a "bitter defeat" with 23.0 percent. The far-left Linke scored 11.9 percent and the Greens 10.7 percent.

And the Pirate party? They clinched two percent of the vote with 845,000 votes -- much to the pleasure, presumably, of German Tweeters.


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