We've all done it: scrolled on our phones when we shouldn't have, but a digital artist in Belgium
is holding his country's politicians
to a higher standard.
has developed a program that automatically detects and tags members of the Belgian
who are seen using their phones during daily livestreams of parliamentary proceedings, which he calls "The Flemish Scrollers," after the Flemish region of Belgium where he lives.
According to Depoorter's website, the bot, which began operating on July 5, uses machine learning to detect phones and facial recognition to identify the politician, and then posts clips from the recording on Twitter
, tagging the distracted politicians with friendly reminders to "pls stay focused!"
The bot's installation comes nearly two years after Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon sparked outrage when he was caught playing the mobile game Angry Birds
during a parliamentary debate.
Please stay focused, distracted @BartSomers and @JanJambon! pic.twitter.com/SCQHUE7lCh — The Flemish Scrollers (@FlemishScroller) July 7, 2021
Please stay focused, @Petervanrompuy! pic.twitter.com/Vp0uX7bgDs — The Flemish Scrollers (@FlemishScroller) July 5, 2021
Please stay focused, distracted @VreeseMaaike! pic.twitter.com/IL2dPuh0Fi — The Flemish Scrollers (@FlemishScroller) July 5, 2021
Depoorter, whose work
focuses on privacy, artificial intelligence, surveillance, and social media
, told Stardia that he has done many projects using CCTV footage and was inspired to do something when he discovered the parliamentary livestream. His other projects include a 2015 installation that automatically catches jaywalkers on surveillance cameras and gives viewers the option to report them, as well as a chat ad
that allows viewers to report them.
According to Depoorter, the majority of politicians who responded to the Flemish Scrollers project claimed they were using their phones for work purposes; however, there is no way to know if that was the case because the bot does not detect what politicians are doing on their devices. It is also true that lawmakers routinely use their phones during hearings for a variety
of reasons that do not necessitate their use of their phones.
However, lawmakers in the United States
and abroad have been chastised for using their phones during important proceedings. Earlier this year, Sen. Ted Cruz
(R-Texas) was chastised for fiddling with his device during testimony about the Jan. 6 insurgency, and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) was caught playing the game Candy Crush during the State of the Union
, a ban on phones during daily parliamentary question time
is being considered, owing to public concern about politicians who are glued to their devices.
Other politicians around the world may soon have to worry about being caught by Depoorter's software, as he is considering making his code open source, which would allow it to be used elsewhere, including the United States.