OTTAWA - Members of Parliament are scrambling to climb aboard the Twitter bandwagon - and getting elbowed by controversial, satirical and even phoney postings.

Victims of fake Twitter accounts now include Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Senator Mike Duffy, the former CTV journalist.

And satirical accounts currently make fun of NDP Leader Jack Layton's moustache and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's cat.

As for controversy, Liberal MP Michelle Simson recently had to apologize to Tory MP Dean Del Mastro after tweeting the following during a committee meeting:

"In committee this morning. M.P. Del Mastro should grow up (not out)." That was followed by: "Gosh, I hate to see a grown M.P. pout. Smile, Dean."

The incident prompted New Democrat MP Charlie Angus to complain Twitter has been turning MPs into Grade 9 cheerleaders and jocks in the school cafeteria.

Despite the pitfalls and embarrassments, politicians say social networking is an effective way to connect with constituents and others.

"People like to know that the people that the folks they elect to represent them are real living human beings that have particular interests," said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

"But also it is a great opportunity to communicate on policy ideas and initiatives, so I try to use it in a balanced way and try to throw in the odd bit of humour and it actually allows for a bit of dialogue as well."

Kenney, who often sends several messages a day to his more than 1,500 followers on the micro-blogging service, says his tweets are mostly just reflections on his day.

"It's an opportunity to have a quick, open exchange with people on issues, which is novel," he said.

"Usually the communications we do are so formalized. If someone sends me a letter by snail mail, given the volume that we receive and the procedures, it might be a few weeks before they get a reply from me."

A search for MPs on the service turns up accounts for nearly a third of Canadian MPs, including all of the party leaders.

And like the rest of the Twitter universe, posts range widely from banal comments about the weather and plans for lunch, to links to news reports and partisan jabs at political opponents.

"For me it is another level of keeping in contact with people and also finding out about what is going on," says New Democrat MP Libby Davies, one of the more prolific tweeters on Parliament Hill.

"Sometimes it drives me crazy because you feel everything is instant, everything is at the moment, so sometimes that feels overwhelming, but I enjoy it.

Turned onto Twitter by her partner Kim Elliot, publisher of the news website Rabble.ca, Davies uses her BlackBerry to post her 140-character missives.

Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, who had not used email until he was in opposition, says a technology-savvy aide turned him onto the service.

"You can't have too much of a debate on this medium because you can't write very much, but you can give snippets of what you think and hear snippets of what people think," Dosanjh said.

Angus, however, that some tweets by MPs are inappropriate in some forums.

"I've been watching with amusement some of the absolutely banal comments that I read on Twitter and people tweeting, but when I'm at a committee meeting, I'm there to do work," Angus said.

"I expect the people that are sitting across from me show respect to me and I show respect to them as opposed to talk, making cheap cracks to their imaginary friends."

Under Twitter's rules, the service allows parody accounts and will only suspend accounts of fakers when there is a clear intent to confuse or mislead readers.

"In some ways that's what's really interesting about all this social media, is that it does allow a lighter side of politics to come out," Davies said of the fake Twitter feeds.

Conservative MP Blake Richards, who tweets three or four times a day, says his Twitter feed gives him a chance to share little experiences from his day to give his followers a sense of himself.

"I don't put a lot of stuff about policy positions. I do talk about issues that matter to me, but it is more about day-to-day funny little stories about things that happen to me or thoughts that pop into my head," he said.

"If there is a gain for me in it, it's probably the sharing with people what I'm doing for them on their behalf."

"If you're not using this kind of tool, then you're missing out on a segment of the population that gets their information that way," Richards said.

-Follow the Ottawa bureau of The Canadian Press at twitter.com/CdnPress_Ott