Twitter account parodying mayor leads to heavy police raid
Police In Peoria, Ill., seize phones and computers in search of the authors of a fake Twitter account that mocked the mayor. Though Twitter had already shut the account, as many as seven police officers were deputed to conduct the raid.
Public officials don't like to be mocked publicly.
One exception might be Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, except that with him you never quite know where the joke starts or ends. Sometimes, this is because you're laughing too much in the middle. Sometimes, it's because he is.
In Peoria, Ill., however, there appears to have been a severe lack of humor exhibited toward the creators of a parody Twitter account -- @peoriamayor -- that purported to have been written by the local mayor, Jim Ardis.
As the Peoria Journal Star reports, the account was suspended by Twitter several weeks ago. This happened even though it had reportedly been labeled, at some point, as a parody account.
In total, the account had emitted around 50 tweets. However, for reasons best known to those in officialdom, as many as seven police officers descended on a house, claimed to have a warrant, and took away a number of phones and computers.
Three people were questioned (two were arrested at their workplaces). Only one was charged, but even this charge had nothing to do with the Twitter account. Instead, 36-year-old Jacob Elliott was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
One resident of the house, 27-year-old Michelle Pratt, told the Journal Star: "They just asked me about the Twitter account, if I knew anything about it."
She said she'd been treated like a criminal.
The Peoria Police Chief, Steve Settingsgaard, told the paper that those questioned were under investigation for impersonating a public official, a misdemeanor that could incite up to a year in jail.
True, they had unwisely placed Ardis' real e-mail address on the Twitter account. They also linked to the city's Web site.
Those who saw the Twitter account say that there were a few rude words used, as well as references to drugs, sex and, gosh, Rob Ford.
There is, currently at least, no evidence that anyone was actually fooled by this account. Could it be that the mayor merely didn't appreciate being made to look like a fool?
Settingsgaard insisted that it wasn't clear this account was a satire.
"I don't agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor," he told the Journal Star.
Well, if that was the case, why have charges not rained down like hailstones of retribution? Let's have all those who were led to believe that the mayor really was tweeting about drugs and sex ululate their pain and vent their angst.
So far, there has been no comment from the mayor himself.
However, how long do you think it took for a new Twitter account to emerge? Astonishingly, it's called @notpeoriamayor.
Sadly, this account features a profile picture of Ardis with a mustache that looks like it wasn't grown for Movember. Instead, it does bear a resemblance to the facial hair of Adolf Hitler.
A sample tweet from this account: "I'm afraid that we may have done you all a great disservice by allowing you the internet. It breeds nothing but contempt for authority."
Another: "If a friend or loved one does say something mocking about us, your leaders by Divine Right, you must report them to my pet police department."
At the time of writing, 36 tweets have emerged from this account. Will 50 be the magic number that incites another raid?
There may well be more to this tale than has so far been revealed. I have contacted Mayor Ardis to ask for his own feelings about this rum affair. I will update, should he e-mail me or even tweet me. (I hope I will, at least, know that it's really him replying.)
I wonder, though, whether such a furor over a parody Twitter will have been worth it in the end.