In February of 2013, I wrote two Twitter bots. These bots are pieces of software that retrieve the XML from the Library of Parliament website for each vote in the House of Commons, and tweet whenever there is a vote for which Stephen Harper or Thomas Mulcair is not on the list of voters. I called them @absenteeharper and @absenteemulcair, respectively. Originally it was only Absentee Harper, but I made Absentee Mulcair, just to be fair. These Twitter bots worked perfectly for nearly a month, when today I tried to log in to my Absentee Mulcair account and was greeted with the message, “Your account (@absenteemulcair) is currently suspended. For more information, please visit Suspended Accounts.”
I contacted Twitter Support to ask why it was that Absentee Mulcair was suspended:
Dear Twitter Support,
My Twitter account, @absenteemulcair does one thing. It tweets whenever the Canadian Library of Parliament posts an XML file indicating that there was a vote in the House of Commons for which Thomas Mulcair was not present. Thomas Mulcair is a public figure. He is the leader of the Loyal Opposition to the Canadian government in Ottawa. This Twitter account is doing nothing more than keeping a democratically elected official responsible to the people he represents.
This Twitter account does not use the “@” symbol—it doesn’t even use Mulcair’s Twitter handle. It does not tweet anything that is not already publicly accessible.
I would like to know who it is that requested my Twitter account be suspended, and on what grounds it was suspended. This is a serious affront to democracy itself, and I would like to know who is behind this.
In short order, I received the standard automatic response that my account broke some of the Twitter Rules, so I wrote back as follows:
My account does not engage in any abusive behaviour. It does not impersonate Thomas Mulcair. It does not use any business names or logos. It does not post any copyrighted material. It only posts information that is processed from the XML file from the Canadian Library of Parliament, which is distributed for the very purpose of being used by the Canadian public in keeping its elected officials accountable—which is exactly what this Twitter account is meant to do.
I have not broken any of the Twitter Rules. The suspension of my account was a politically-motivated and indefensible suppression of my free speech. I would like to know who it is that requested my account be suspended.
I am still waiting for an actual human to read my messages to Twitter Support, but I don’t hold out much hope that Twitter will be forthcoming with the name of the party who requested that Absentee Mulcair be shut down.
I realise that in the big world of Canadian politics, my Twitter bots are pretty small potatoes. Absentee Mulcair had five or six followers at the time it was shut down.
That said, my Twitter bots are legitimate expressions of my freedom of speech. It is not asking much to be able to publish whether or not an MP even shows up to do his job. The very reason that information is published is so that Canadians can hold their elected officials to account. The reason it is published as an XML file is so that it can be easily machine-readable and so that processing the information can be done automatically. The information that Absentee Mulcair published was not private information about Mulcair’s life. It was public information, obtained through legitimate public sources on the subject of a minister of parliament in his official capacity as a minister of parliament.
This is fair game.
My question to Thomas Mulcair and the NDP is, Who requested that my Twitter bot, Absentee Mulcair be suspended, and why? If it is a member of your political party who made this request, I ask that you would have the courage to admit it and justify yourself.