Electioneering via Internet easily avoids any rules

Modern social media has opened up new avenues for dirty politics.

Costa Rica is more conservative than many other countries in campaigning and promoting a candidate. That attitude is reflected in the public. Three persons, for example, filed an objection to printed material put out by Roman Catholic bishops. The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones just said the material did not promote a particular candidate and declined to take any action.

The Tribunal is the umpire for the political season. Human nature to the contrary, the Tribunal wants voters to decide among candidates next February on the merits. Study after study shows that the public is impressed by other factors, such as the height of each candidate.

The Tribunal is going to be unable to crack down on Facebook and other Internet postings as well as emails.

If Nigerian scammers can use false email addressees to attempt frauds, so can advocates for candidates. Mostly these are negative. Some use Internet sources that are far from the control of Costa Rica officials.

Last weekend someone posted an article on a CNN blog that claimed Luis Antonio Sobrado, the head of the election tribunal, was taking orders to manipulate the election from former president Óscar Arias Sanchez. The claim was off the absurdity scale particularly when the poster claimed the evidence was what a hacker obtained from the tribunal servers.

The election tribunal quickly denied the report, but the CNN iReport is an open forum, and the anonymous poster has not been identified. The individual used the name CRreport, which is close to the name of a title related to A.M. Costa Rica.

Several political critics have been running Internet sites for several years in which they mock and comment on what transpires here. While the election tribunal might become unhappy with statements by a stand-up comedian, it can do nothing about free expression on the Internet. And humor always has been part of the critical process.

Add a bit of Photoshop expertise and almost anything is possible. A prime target is José María Villalta, the presidential candidate and sitting legislator for Frente Amplio, the leftist political party. There have been visual slanders circulated as emails about this candidate.

Of course, the big target is frontrunner Johnny Araya Monge. It helps that Araya has a long record as San José mayor that can be used against him.

Politics always has been dirty.  But mass distribution took money. With the maturing of the social media, electronic slanders and half-truths seem to be delivered easily and daily.

So while the formal political structure play by the rules under the eyes of the election tribunal, anonymous advocates will be attempting to confuse the electorate.

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