On Tueday April 15th, police in Peoria, IL raided a house on North University street. The reasoning behind the police raid? The mayor of Peoria, Jim Ardis, had recently discovered a parody twitter account about himself and was obviously distraught from this discovery. The Mayor claimed that he had not given permission for anyone to “create the account using his personal photograph or information from his elected office”. On March 12 of the same year, Ardis notified authorities about the account. Shortly after on March 14, a judge signed off on legal papers seeking information from the parody twitter account. Another judge signed a warrant to be sent to Comcast for the address of the user of the IP address that was returned from Twitter. Finally on April 15th, the address given from Comcast was raided. The search warrant for the address covered the following items:
the seizure of any cocaine, heroin, drug paraphernalia, books, papers, records, photographs, recordings, documents, computers, computer systems, computer disks, computer tapes or other software, computer photographs, cellular telephones, any digital storage media, and related peripherals, the contents thereof; any microscopic or trace evidence, or other things which have been used in the commission of, or which constitute evidence of the offense of False Personation, in violation of 720 Illinois Compiled Statute, 5/17-2(b)(2), 2013, as amended.
There are a few glaring terms here that stand out to me. First of all, why would the search require the seizure of drugs for a case of False Personation? It seems that logically, the only things that should be taken from the residence should be any kind of device or technology that would allow someone to access twitter to impersonate the mayor. Sure some of the tweets depicted the mayor using drugs, rendezvousing with prostitutes, and flat out inappropriate language, however, sources have stated that it was clearly defined in the bio of the twitter account that is was for parody. Besides, even if the residents of the house used drugs, that is not how they were impersonating the Mayor , unless of course the Mayor has a drug problem in which he should not be in office in the first place. By having that statement in the twitter account, there is no reason that any search warrants or seizures should have been executed. The account should have been protected under protected speech. Even if the picture used in the twitter account was protected under some form of copyright, there is absolutely no way a search warrant for the residence of the account owner should be drawn up. If that was the case for every twitter account that used a picture that belonged to someone else, we would need a lot more police officers.
As a result of the search warrant being executed, there were quite a few things taken from the property. These things include pieces of mail, cellphones, laptops, an xbox 360, iPads, an ashtray with green seedy substances, glass pipes, and SD cards. Here is the real kicker though, the only charge after the search warrant was executed was for possessing between 30 to 500 grams of marijuana. Not a single charge for the reason the search warrant was issued. If the main reason for having the search in the first place is about a twitter account, how can one justify the seizure of drugs from people who committed no crime in the first place? This is simply a case of the power that a butthurt mayor of a city has as well as the connections that he is able to utilize to get something that makes himself look bad taken down from the internet.
As of now, the twitter account, @MayorPeoria, is currently suspended, so I cannot access the account to verify for myself if the tweets are clearly able to be claimed as parody. However, I have managed to find a few articles that claim to have tweets from the account, but I cannot verify exactly how true these tweets are:
However, one should easily be able to surmise that this is in fact not the real mayor asking a major airline if it is okay if he brings cocaine on board a flight. This relates back to in class when Keith Heckert and Kelley Bregenzer came to class to discuss the UD brand. The topic of parody twitter accounts was brought up, and it was mentioned that the account about President Harker was allowed to stay up because it was clearly a parody account. It was clearly a parody account because the kinds of things that were tweeted form the account were so outlandish and practically impossible to link back to the real President Harker. That is how I feel like this case should have been handled. There is no way that this should have escalated to anything more than it was. The owners of the parody account should be let go with all charges dropped. The account should be protected under protected speech.
Another interesting and quite funny outcome of these events is the aftermath. Now, if someone searches on twitter for the mayor of Peoria, there are over 50 parody accounts that have equally if not even more offensive tweets. All of these accuonts also clearly state that they are indeed parody. If the mayor could have just let this one account go and get past it, this whole situation could be avoided. At the time the account was taken down, the account only had around 50 tweets and 40 or so followers. Therefore the account had a very minimal impact on anything. Now, as a result of this entire ordeal that has reached major headlines on various news websites the audiences of these accounts has vastly increased.