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Selfies at polling stations: Don’t take them, don’t publish them

Selfies are absolutely fine – almost encouraged – outside polling stations, but taking them inside risks getting in serious trouble

Don’t do it. I know what you’re thinking. But don’t do it. Leave your phone in your pocket at the polling station. Just leave it there until you’re out.

The desire to commemorate the moment is strong, to banish the weeks of deafening hysteria on every flickering screen, posting the act of catharsis on Instagram, basking in the post-referendum glow of democracy in action. But then you can expect a £5,000 fine for breaching electoral law. Or half a year in prison. Sorry about that.

Despite repeated warnings, the young and politically-enthusiastic continue to take selfies at polling stations on voting days, and some news organisations continue to use them in their coverage. The Electoral Commission stated in 2014 that selfies – or “boothies” – risked capturing someone other than the selfie-taker casting their vote, breaking legal requirements around the secrecy of the ballot in the process.

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At least one local news outlet in the UK had terrible advice for its readers the day before the referendum, as seen here. We decided to save their blushes by not identifying the account.

There’s no precedent yet set for any individual or publisher pulled up in court for breaching the Representation of the People Act in this way, admittedly, but no one wants to be that guy.

By all means, capture the moment outside with your squad. Snapchat might even add their special filters to mark the occasion. But don’t do it inside. Unless you have five grand or six months to spare.

In case we’re in any doubt, the letter of the law states:

*clears throat*

“No person shall –

(a) interfere with or attempt to interfere with a voter when recording his vote;
(b) otherwise obtain or attempt to obtain in a polling station information as to the
referendum answer for which a voter in that station is about to vote or has
voted;
(c) communicate at any time to any person any information obtained in a polling
station as to the referendum answer for which a voter in that station is about
to vote or has voted, or as to the number or other unique identifying mark on
the back of the ballot paper given to a voter at that station;
(d) directly or indirectly induce a voter to display his ballot paper after he has
marked it so as to make known to any person the referendum answer for
which he has or has not voted”

It says a lot more as well, but the tl;dr is: NO SELFIES IN POLLING STATIONS, FOLKS. Now get out there and exercise your goddamn democratic right.

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A project of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, First Draft News is an open-access site that provides practical and ethical guidance in how to find, verify and publish content sourced from the social web.