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.
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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.''
'I'm not pissed off'
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.''
Hate speech and 'freedom of expression'
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.
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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.''
Tory staffer calls hateful accounts 'stupid'
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 so-called fake news.
"It's really concerning for the next election.''