Be cautious with your tweets on by-election day

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Be cautious with your tweets on by-election day

With the April 27 by-elections just around the corner, the National Election Commission plans to crack down on people who use social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter to encourage young people to vote, sources told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

The commission’s decision comes after a group of artists were warned by the commission last year for violating a Korean law that bans people from giving goods and gifts to encourage people to vote - or not to vote.

Several artists, including painter Lim Ok-sang and novelist Lee Oi-soo, wrote on their Twitter pages last June that they would give their art, including engravings and novels, as gifts to people in their 20s who voted in last year’s June 2 local elections.

“Last year, there were cases in which people wrote on social networking sites that they would give gifts as a reward to people in their 20s and 30s if they posted pictures on social networking sites as proof that they actually voted on June 2,” said a senior official at the National Election Commission. “That obviously was a violation of Article 230 of the national election law.”

A person who provides cash or gifts to encourage people to vote can face up to five years in prison or a fine of up 10 million won ($9,165), according to Article 230.

The commission didn’t fine the artists last year and only gave them warnings, because sites like Twitter were relatively new in Korea.

The commission’s stance has been criticized by people saying it is infringing on celebrities’ freedom of speech.

Some of the artists who were warned said they didn’t think they violated the law and, on the contrary, thought they deserved praise for encouraging young people to vote.

According to the official, the ban doesn’t apply to people who use social networking services to encourage people to vote - minus the offer of gifts.

But the official said the election watchdog would crack down on people if they encouraged voters of specific ages or locations, as “that could affect results of the election.”

The commission believes that turnout will be an important factor in the neck-and-neck by-election races for a National Assembly seat in Bundang B District of Gyeonggi and for Gangwon governor, so it expects there will be attempts to use social networking services to encourage specific blocks of voters to go to polling stations.

“Treating celebrities’ voluntary actions to encourage voting as a crime is unfair,” said an official of the main opposition Democratic Party. “The National Election Commission should be more active in encouraging people to vote.”

By Shin Yong-ho, Kim Mi-ju []
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