In the midst of all the digital images, videos, and links flying at you this election season you’ve probably come across this website. It appears to belong to STAR. The thing is, under the Guild Election Regulations (2015), the only websites that candidates and parties are allowed to use are one that are hosted by the UWA Student Guild. And this particular website appears to be hosted by WIX.
Section 601(1) of the Guild Election Regulations (2015) limits what electronic media parties may use during the elections. It regulates “any public social media profile created for the express purpose of the Election” and includes, but is not limited to, things like Facebook (a consistent favourite of candidates), Google+ (lol), Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and stand-alone websites hosted by the Guild. BINGO. Now, in the regs, there is no mention of stand-alone websites NOT hosted by the Guild, but in the 2017 Election Handbook for Candidates the definition of electronic media is explicitly stated that the “definition does not permit stand‐alone websites except those hosted by the Guild”. So no, parties cannot host their own websites – to do so would be a breach of the Guild’s election regulations.
So, is the Guild hosting STAR’s website? Well, if you type in their allocated URL “https://elections.guild.uwa.edu.au/star2017” you are immediately redirected to “https://icthelp9.wixsite.com/star2018” and a very large picture of Megan Lee (STAR Prez Candidate)’s face. The website’s favicon is a wix logo, the site has two banners saying “This site was created using wix.com. Create your own for free” and “create a wix site”, and of course the redirected URL includes the words “wixsite” – all of which point to the website being created using WIX. The question is then whether STAR’s site is hosted on WIX, or the Guild. As I understand it, hosting is a technical term that means where a site is located – as in, literally which servers it exists on. In some instances it is possible to create a site using a platform’s software, and to then export the entire thing to another place, but in this case that appears to be impossible. In WIX’s own FAQs it clearly states that it “is not possible to export or embed files, pages or sites, created using the Wix Editor or ADI, to another external destination or host. It is also not possible to embed your Wix site onto an external site”.
We spoke to Nevin Jayawardena, current President of the Guild, 2018 STAR OGC candidate, and creator of STAR’s website. He confirmed that STAR’s website is not located on the Guild’s server. He disputed the fact that this meant it was not ‘hosted’ by the Guild, as the password for STAR’s (WIX) website has been given to the Guild administration, and the site’s account has been transferred to the Guild’s WIX account, so the Guild now owns the STAR (WIX) website. Nevin said that the meaning of hosting was ambiguous, and he believed that this arrangement was within the definition of ‘hosting’, as the Guild could take down the website at any point. He also confirmed that STAR’s website had been approved by the Returning Officer prior to it going live on 11 September 2017.
We asked Mary, the Returning Officer, if she considered the STAR website to be a breach of the election regulations. She said that she had asked the Guild’s IT officer for advice, as she didn’t really understand how websites and hosting worked, and from his advice she was satisfied that STAR’s website was hosted by the Guild, and she believed that the guild was in control of STAR’s website and could at any point take it down. If the Guild has access to the WIX account that STAR’s website is hosted on this would be true. We spoke to the Guild’s IT officer but he did not answer any of our questions about websites and hosting, and referred all of our questions back to Mary.
In 2015 LAUNCH hosted their own website on an external server, and were instructed by the then returning officer to take it down as it was found to breach the Guild’s election regulations. It is unclear why this definition would have changed in the last 2 years without any formal amendments to the Guild Election Regulations wording. If hosting is interpreted in a vague way to basically mean ‘those who have control over a website’, then STAR would probably not be in breach of any regulations – but why would an ambiguous definition of ‘hosting’ be preferred over a technical definition, when the technical definition was the preferred definition just 2 years ago? When we spoke to LAUNCH Campaign Manager Lewis Hutton he raised concerns that having STAR’s website hosted externally unfairly advantaged STAR, as it made their website immune to the effects of the Guild server crashing (as happened yesterday afternoon). It also meant that STAR were able to use different kinds of coding than websites hosted on the Guild server (websites hosted on the Guild server can only be coded in HTML) when creating their website.
Words by Ruth Thomas
STAR’s website has been live since 11 September 2017. If there has been a breach of election regulations the only resolution processes available to candidates are either to address their complaints to the Returning Officer, or to take their complaints directly to the Supreme Court of WA.
Here is a complete list of websites as approved by the guild (only two are currently active):