Eshana Bhangu suspended from campaigning for 12 hours for an unapproved Facebook post

AMS VP academic and university affairs (VPAUA) and Senate hopeful Eshana Bhangu has been put in the penalty box for an unapproved Facebook post.

At 5:01 p.m. on Saturday, AMS Elections posted on its Facebook page that Bhangu’s right to campaign had been suspended for the next 24 hours — but the team has since downgraded the penalty to 12 hours.

Bhangu said she respects the committee’s decision, and that she was “committed to a fair elections process.” She said the post in question was a profile picture update with the caption stating that Bhangu was running for the VPAUA and Senate races.

“Something about the wording over there made them believe that it was campaign material, even though it was just speech, or in my opinion, at the time it was speech, that I’m just declaring that I’m running,” Bhangu said before the decision was modified.

“It’s just a grey area in terms of speech versus campaign material, which I think can be hard to navigate when online campaigning is all we’ve got.”

Chief Electoral Officer Isabelle Ava-Pointon said the post counted as campaign material because it was posted to an account she had indicated she might use in the campaign — despite it being a personal account. Additionally, she said it was posted during campaign period, it announces the positions she was running for and it appears to address the electorate, rather than her “general Facebook friends.”

According to the AMS Candidate Handbook, all campaign materials need to be approved by the chief electoral officer prior to use and include the AMS Elections logo, voting dates and voting links.

The initial decision was changed upon further discussion, Ava-Pointon wrote in an emailed statement.

“The AMS Elections Committee decided to reduce her penalty to a campaigning ban of 12 hours, based on the circumstances of the case. The candidate’s history of meticulous attention to detail when getting campaign material approved was also taken into account in this decision,” Ava-Pointon wrote.

Bhangu clarified that she didn’t link her platform on the post or any voting information.

“So I wasn’t actually campaigning, it was more of a statement and announcement that I’m running. There was some confusion and I apologize for my error,” she said.

This article is part of our 2021 AMS elections coverage.