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'Dumbed-down nature of the conversation' forces NDP MP off Twitter

NDP MP Charlie Angus speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 28, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Twitter lost one of its active parliamentarians when NDP MP Charlie Angus logged off for good about a week ago.

Borrowing from Martin Luther King Jr. on March 25, Mr. Angus used his BlackBerry to type his last tweet: "Dear twitter – adios. Free at last. Free at last. Great God almighty free at last."

Mr. Angus said the message got the attention of some of his fellow politicians at the time. And he published a more detailed explanation of his departure this week at the Huffington Post.

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"I do think that we need a discussion about how the technology's affecting political discourse, so I thought I would put some thoughts to paper and see what happened," Mr. Angus said in an interview with The Globe on Monday.

After tweeting for about a year and a half, Mr. Angus said only about 5 per cent of what he was seeing on the social network was worth it. Twitter helped him draw attention to a cause in his Northern Ontario riding last year, when he was trying to ease the housing crisis at the Attawapiskat First Nation. But most of what he was seeing was inane, mean-spirited or even racist, he said.

"The Twitterati, I mean, I don't even know who these people are. I don't think it's a positive move in the political realm that we're dealing with because of the dumbed-down nature of the conversation," Mr. Angus said.

In February, details about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews's divorce were posted in a series of tweets responding to Bill C-30, the Conservative government's controversial online surveillance legislation. "You realize how easy it is to actually destroy someone if you wanted to," Mr. Angus said. "Vic Toews and I do not get along but I think we're starting to move into some very disturbing territory."

Before that, there were negative tweets about Attawapiskat, including one person saying she hoped the people there would freeze to death, Mr. Angus said. More recently, a journalist seriously quoted a tweet of his about robo-calls that was supposed to be a joke.

One thing that worries him is that there are no checks and balances on Twitter and the constant flow of information can be both positive and negative. It was also taking up time where he could have been having real conversations, responding to e-mails, reading or otherwise working, he said.

The New Democrat added that he's not trying to persuade others to leave Twitter but he hopes his absence will create some discussion.

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Mr. Angus, who represents Timmins-James Bay, said he doubts many of his constituents are on Twitter and he doesn't think his departure is making him less accessible. In fact, he communicates with many constituents on Facebook.

"I really enjoy [Facebook]because I'm dealing with real communities, real people," he said, adding that he coordinated relief efforts for the James Bay coast on that social network. "I think new media has a really important role to play but more and more Twitter, again, it's like being badgered by a drunk on a 24-hour bus ride."

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