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Jim Ardis, Asshole of the Day for April 25, 2014
Every time a politician or public figure says something stupid or mean, another fake Twitter account is created to mock them. Sometimes the accounts are created even when there’s not “cause” to mock them. But they are public figures, and so may be ridiculed. That’s freedom of speech.
But Mayor Jim Ardis of Peoria, IL, doesn’t think he should be mocked or satirized, and when he was, he sent in the police:
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.
Here’s the facts:
- He mocked Mayor Ardis at first without making it clear it was satire. A mistake was listing the mayor’s actual email and the city’s web site. He had crossed the line into impersonation with that. And Twitter shut him down.
- This raid happened after the account had been shut down by Twitter, even after it had been labeled a parody account.
- The police arrested roommates at their place of work too. On nothing.
There is no crime here. The State of Illinois has said they will not press charges against the satirist and that the law was not broken. There’s more to the story over at Capitol Fax about the City Council’s reaction and about how Mayor Ardis just keeps saying he was in the right to do this.
Now here’s the thing— I write satire on the internet every day as @TeaPartyCat, and I know the rules. You can’t impersonate people, but you can satirize them as far as you want. @peoriamayor broke that rule at first by making it appear it really was the mayor— using links to the real mayor. But even so, the account wasn’t verified, and if it’s not verified, then on Twitter people know it can’t be trusted. Another point is that from what I’ve read, the joke of the tweets were that the mayor was trying to live the Rob Ford lifestyle, but, you know, in Peoria. That sounds pretty obviously satirical, whether it’s actually funny or not.
But who cares? You’re mayor, you’re a public figure, people can mock you, funny or not. The best mocking is when it is actually about you, but it doesn’t really matter what it is. Getting the police involved after it had been marked satire and after Twitter had shut it down is an abuse of power.
And what’s so infuriating here is that no one is talking about censuring or penalizing the Mayor or the police for this abuse. Why not? If he pays no price for this, then it’s fair game on satirists. Send the police, the charges won’t stick, but it’s about raising the cost of mocking politicians, not locking them up. It might seem like a small case, but it’s not.
So, for sending the police to harass someone for mocking him on Twitter, Mayor Ardis is the Asshole of the Day.
It is Jim Ardis’s first time as Asshole of the Day.
NOTE: Usually we won’t feature someone on the site for an actual crime because calling them an asshole diminishes or trivializes the crime. But I broke that rule today because
- So far there is no talk of actually charging the mayor with anything or sanctioning him in any way, so at this moment, I’m the only one who thinks he committed a crime.
- Satire cannot be under threat that any politician can send the police to harass people over a few tweets mocking them.
UPDATE: As I said above, it didn’t look like the Mayor or police would be charged with anything for this ridiculous reaction to online parody. And now word comes that a judge has ruled it was OK:
There will still be a civil suit it seems, but to me that is not enough. Because civil suits cost the government money, but not the individual police chief or mayor who did all this. Only a criminal charge would hit them personally.