Twit­ter par­ody of Lib­eral MP deletes tweets af­ter com­plaint

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - MIA RAB­SON

OT­TAWA — A Twit­ter ac­count billing it­self as a par­ody of Iqra Khalid dis­ap­peared briefly but then re­turned Fri­day, its pre­vi­ous tweets deleted, af­ter the Lib­eral MP com­plained about ref­er­ences to her Mus­lim her­itage and claims she sup­ports Sharia law and the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group.

Khalid, who was tar­geted with hate mail and death threats last year over her con­tro­ver­sial mo­tion to con­demn Is­lam­o­pho­bia and sys­temic racism, had asked Twit­ter to in­ves­ti­gate the ac­count.

On Thurs­day, the ac­count’s owner ac­knowl­edged a warn­ing from Twit­ter, af­ter which the user­name, Twit­ter han­dle, photo and bi­og­ra­phy were all al­tered in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to hew more closely to the plat­form’s rules for par­ody ac­counts.

The ac­count van­ished briefly from Twit­ter al­to­gether, then resur­faced a few hours later, its ear­lier tweets deleted. The anonymous user posted a note urg­ing Khalid and main­stream me­dia out­lets to spend the same en­ergy at­tack­ing “white priv­i­lege hate­fests” that they do go­ing af­ter par­ody Twit­ter ac­counts.

More than 50 par­ody ac­counts of Lib­eral cab­i­net min­is­ters and MPs have sprouted up in the last few weeks, all of them linked on­line un­der the hash­tag “par­o­dy­cab­i­net.”

The num­ber of ac­counts tar­get­ing gov­ern­ment mem­bers ex­ploded last month when Twit­ter shut down one that veered too close to im­per­son­at­ing En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna.

Khalid, who rep­re­sents a rid­ing in Mis­sis­sauga, Ont., said she didn’t think she would merit a par­ody ac­count, since she’s not in cab­i­net. She’d be fine with it, she said — ex­cept for the fact this par­tic­u­lar ac­count was go­ing too far.

“Every­body has the right to speak their mind, but free­doms come with re­spon­si­bil­ity and when we have the power to speak we should do it with care,” she said in an in­ter­view.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that they are spread­ing fake news, and sow­ing fear and di­vi­sion.”

At least one par­ody ac­count of Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ahmed Hussen, who is also Mus­lim, fea­tures sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments to the Khalid ac­count.

One post from that ac­count that Khalid took is­sue with in­cluded a photo of a real flyer for an up­com­ing week­end bar­be­cue she’s host­ing as an MP, but de­scribed it as an “anti-Cana­dian pro-Is­lamic Ha­lal BBQ event.”

“I’m not pissed off,” Khalid said. “I just don’t want the con­tin­ual spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion.”

The Khalid ac­count counted more than 1,000 fol­low­ers, al­though at least 50 of them were other par­ody ac­counts. She said these kinds of ac­counts won’t keep her from do­ing her work as an MP. “This isn’t go­ing to slow me down.” Twit­ter has sus­pended or elim­i­nated sev­eral other ac­counts that were the sub­ject of com­plaints, in­clud­ing at least two McKenna par­o­dies.

One of them was mis­taken by sev­eral peo­ple for be­ing the ac­tual min­is­ter of en­vi­ron­ment, a vi­o­la­tion of Twit­ter’s pol­icy, trig­ger­ing its demise and prompt­ing a de­bate among Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives alike about gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence in free speech.

Many of the ac­counts note when they’ve re­ceived a com­plaint and then change their name or han­dle or photo to avoid be­ing shut down. Twit­ter al­lows par­ody ac­counts as long as they don’t have the same name or han­dle as the per­son be­ing made fun of, and in­clude at least one iden­ti­fier iden­ti­fy­ing the ac­count as fake, such as putting par­ody in the bio.

There are also rules against pro­mot­ing ha­tred or ha­rass­ing peo­ple on the ba­sis of race.

An­other par­ody ac­count, this one fo­cused on For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land, was re­cently sus­pended briefly, then re­in­stated, prompt­ing the per­son be­hind it to vent — anony­mously — about free­dom of speech.

“Who are you do­ing these favours for?” the per­son tweeted in ref­er­ence to “vig­i­lantes” who are re­port­ing the ac­counts.

“We are not en­gaged in hate speech, or dis­crim­i­na­tion, so you are rob­bing your own chil­dren of the free­dom of ex­pres­sion.”

Shea Angus, a Con­ser­va­tive staffer who works out of south­ern On­tario, said the par­ody ac­counts took off pre­cisely be­cause of the gov­ern­ment’s at­tempt to shut them down. Angus de­nies any link to the ac­counts, but has posted tweets of his own sup­port­ing the ini­tia­tive.

That said, ac­counts that are hate­ful and not funny are “self de­feat­ing,” he added. “It’s di­min­ish­ing the value of the ef­fec­tive ones. It’s not funny, it’s stupid.”

Angus said any par­ody ac­count that is not clearly self-iden­ti­fy­ing as par­ody is also harm­ful but those which are us­ing hu­mour to point out flaws or ridicu­lous state­ments and ac­tions of the gov­ern­ment are on point.

Amanda Al­varo, a Lib­eral po­lit­i­cal strate­gist and co-founder of the pub­lic re­la­tions firm Pomp and Cir­cum­stance, said her prob­lem with par­ody ac­counts is that they con­tinue to blur the dis­tinc­tion be­tween real in­for­ma­tion and so­called fake news.

“It’s re­ally con­cern­ing for the next elec­tion.”

BER­NICE CUR­LEY / CHASE THE ACE MAR­GA­REE

Barb Red­dick (right) is de­fend­ing her bid to keep a $1.2-mil­lion dol­lar lot­tery win from her nephew even though his name was also on the ticket.

Lib­eral MP Iqra Khalid

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