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British people are sharing how they voted on social media — and it could get them in trouble

A real estate store in Sheffield, England, is a temporary polling station. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

As Britons go to the polls to vote in their next Parliament, many are sharing their experiences on social media, whether it's using Facebook's "I'm a voter" tool to reveal that they made the trip to the polling station or tweeting images of #DogsatPollingStations.

But in Britain, where there are extensive laws about what the media can publish on election day, there's some confusion about what, exactly, is allowed. And on Twitter, some users have been revealing not only that they had voted, but also whom they had voted for.

It's not just average voters. Even some candidates revealed their votes.

These messages can reach a huge number of people. For example, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, has almost 200,000 followers. In most cases, anyone can take these posts and share them, amplifying their message.

Technically, British broadcasters are prohibited from broadcasting anything that could influence voters on election day, meaning that the likes of the BBC have to instead focus on completely factual reporting. This results in a remarkably boring news day for Britons — subjects such as the weather or a candidate visiting a polling station are examples of what is considered acceptable election-day content.

Online, and especially on social media, things are a little more confusing. Britain's election laws were designed to deal with television or radio, not Twitter and Facebook. Mic Wright, a reporter with the Next Web, reached out to Britain's Electoral Commission to ask whether people could tweet about who they had voted for.

"A voter may volunteer information about who they voted for, provided no undue influence is exerted on them to do so," the Electoral Commission responded in a statement. "There is no explicit provision in law that prevents people from tweeting or re-tweeting that information. There is, however, provision to prevent exit polls to be published until polls have closed."

However, as Wright points out, it's that last part about exit polls that seems as if it could be problematic.

Publishing exit polls — polls of voters after they have cast their ballots — is quite clearly illegal in British law. Under Section 66A of the Representation of the People Act of 1983, it is unlawful to publish "any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted." In theory, anyone who publishes an exit poll before 10 p.m. local time in Britain could face a £5,000 ($7,600) fine or even six months in jail.

Does retweeting someone's statement about whom they voted for count as an exit poll? It's hard to say, but, in most cases, probably not. Gavin Millar QC from London’s Matrix Chambers told the Telegraph that "as long as MPs [members of Parliament] don’t cross a line where they start aggregating information and put out their own mini exit polls," it's hard to see Section 66A being contravened here.

Selfies in the voting booth, however, might be going too far. According to British law, it is illegal to release any information "obtained in a polling station," the Electoral Commission says.

"Due to the potential breach of the law, intentionally or not, we strongly advise against any form of photography taken inside a polling station," a statement from the commission reads. "However, if a voter would like to highlight their participation in the elections, we suggest this is done outside the polling station before or after they vote."

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