Coded Twitter Messages Get Around French Electoral Results Rules
April 23 (Bloomberg) -- When it came to revealing early trends in the French presidential elections yesterday, coded postings on Twitter Inc. ruled by breaking the rules.
"Weather Forecast: Netherlands 29.5 degrees, Hungary 25.5 degrees, USSR 14.5 degrees, Austria 14 degrees," Anti_Nanti, a Twitter user with more than 4,000 subscribers, wrote at 1 p.m. yesterday, long before the 8:00 p.m. results deadline.
He used the Netherlands for Francois Hollande, Hungary for President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose father was a Hungarian immigrant, USSR for the Left Front's Jean-Luc Melenchon and Austria for the anti-immigrant National Front's Marine Le Pen.
Thousands of Twitter messages an hour were posted using the hashtag #radiolondres, a reference to the frequency created by the French resistance movement in London during World War II to send coded radio messages to German-occupied France.
The cryptic postings sought to skirt laws making it illegal to disclose results or voting indications before 8 p.m., when Paris polling stations closed. Those who posted some of the barely disguised messages may now face prosecution.
"If it was in a clear, little-concealed context, it would be considered dissemination, " Romain Rambaud, a researcher and professor at Universite de Rennes, said on the i-Tele television channel today.
About 80 percent of France's 44.5 million voters cast their ballots yesterday for the first round of the presidential election. Hollande took 28.6 percent of the vote against 27.2 percent for Sarkozy, the Interior Ministry said in Paris. The anti-immigrant Le Pen got 17.9 percent, a record for the party that surpassed the predictions of all pollsters. The second round takes place on May 6.
No polling institute, private person or media was allowed to publish, air or broadcast any data or political message from candidates before the closure of all polling stations on mainland France. Offenders face a $99,000 fine and prosecution.
Media outlets in Switzerland and Belgium, including the daily La Tribune de Geneve and the RTBF national television and radio, said last week that they would publish the results before the legal embargo, thumbing their noses at French laws.
Paris prosecutors said late last night that they have opened an investigation into the breach of embargoes by Agence France-Presse and websites in Belgium, Switzerland and New Zealand.
The rise of social media -- Facebook Inc. and, more especially, Twitter -- pose a threat to the French law that dates back to July 1977. Sarkozy and other lawmakers have suggested that the country needs to change its election rules to adapt to such media.
The postings yesterday used codes to allude to candidates. Sarkozy was referred to as a Rolex watch for his "Bling-Bling" reputation, or as the "garden gnome" for his height.
Hollande was called Flanby, after a Nestle SA caramel pudding to show he's soft and wobbly, or Gouda, the cheese made in the Netherlands.
Messages on the Internet often turned into jokes or into veiled calls for voting like YannSig's posting at 3.27 p.m. saying "dessert always comes with a good glass of red (wine) and some Gouda."
Radio Londres, which was hosted in the BBC's offices, broadcast before the 1944 D-Day Allied forces landings in France the first lines of Paul Verlaine's "Chanson d'Automne" poem to tip the resistance that the invasion, dubbed Operation Overlord, would start in the next 24 hours.
The lines "the long sobs of the violins of autumn wound my heart with a monotonous languor" were used as the coded call.
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