Fed-up voter creates bot to track how long politicians spend scrolling phones in parliament
@FlemishScroller / Twitter

Texting or scrolling through Instagram while in the company of others or at work is everyone’s worst habit. But most of us aren’t elected politicians deciding government policy.

So, to help Belgian politicians stay on task, digital artist Dries Depoorter has made a bot that catches members of the Belgian Federal Parliament who feel the need to look at their phones during parliamentary sessions.

The bot, which started running on 5 July and now has thousands of followers, uses machine learning to detect phones and facial recognition to identify politicians, Depoorter said on his website. It then posts clips from the recording on Twitter, tagging the distracted politicians with friendly reminders to “pls stay focused!”

The tech comes nearly two years after Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon prompted an uproar after he was caught playing the game Angry Birds on his phone during a parliamentary debate. Seriously.

Meanwhile, politicians in other countries have been similarly slammed. Earlier this year, Senator Ted Cruz given a slap on the wrist for playing with his mobile during testimony about the Capitol riots. In 2018, another Republican senator Brenda Lawrence was caught playing the addictive Candy Crush during the State of the Union address.

Speaking to HuffPost, Depoorter said most of the politicians who had responded to the Flemish Scrollers project claimed they were using their phones for work purposes. There’s no way to determine if that was the case because the bot doesn’t ascertain what politicians are doing on their devices.

Depoorter is also considering making his code open source, meaning it could be used elsewhere. We would love to see how often our politicians waste time checking the football scores or updating their Amazon wish lists.

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