Some people just can't take a joke.
When Peoria, Ill., mayor Jim Ardis found a parody Twitter account in his name, he got the police to track down and raid the house of its creator, Jon Daniel. Now Daniel, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is suing the city officials involved for violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Daniel, a 29-year-old father of two, created @peoriamayor in March. With lines like "Im bout to climb the civic center and do some lines on the roof" and "Im thinking it's a tequila and stripper night," it's not difficult to distinguish the account from that of a real local politician.
Image Credit: Chicago Tribune
"It was created to be a joke," Daniel told the Chicago Tribune. "I thought my friends would find it funny."
The crackdown: Ardis emailed the city manager looking for a way to shut down the account, which led to a chain of messages in which the police chief and a detective in the department's computer crimes unit repeatedly note that the account is not criminal.
"I looked at the comments and photographs posted by the suspect. Nothing contained within amounts to criminal violations," the detective wrote. "Without a subpoena issued to Twitter to obtain the IP address of the account creator, there is not much else we can do."
Ardis and the police got that subpoena, though. Turns out there's a law on the Illinois books against falsely identifying yourself as a public official. Even though Twitter had already suspended the account, the company turned over Daniel's IP address, allowing the cops to raid his home.
They arrived when Daniel was at work and seized four computers, four iPhones, an iPad and two Xboxes — anything seemingly capable of sending the tweets. They also found some marijuana, and since the search warrant allowed them to look for drugs, they were able to charge one of Daniel's housemates for possession.
The aftermath: The ACLU filed a lawsuit on Daniel's behalf against the city, the mayor, the police chief and other city and law enforcement officials. Ardis has threatened his own lawsuit in return, which led to this ridiculous video in which he reads some of the parody account's profanity-laden tweets with a straight face.
The bar for defamation in this instance is pretty high: Ardis likely counts as a public figure, which means he would have to prove that Daniel intended "actual malice" and that a reasonable person could not distinguish between "Im thinking it's a tequila and stripper night" and something the actual mayor would tweet. Parody accounts are allowed on Twitter, though they must clearly mark themselves as such.
"The joke of the account was to have my fictional mayor saying things that no one would possibly think that Mayor Jim Ardis would say," Daniel said in a statement. "If the mayor was concerned, all he had to do was tell the public that his was not his account and not his words, rather than involving the police."