CHICAGO (CBS) — The American Civil Liberties Union is representing of the creator of a fake Twitter account opened in the name of Peoria’s mayor, after police raided his home in April.
Jon Daniel was behind the fake Twitter account @Peoriamayor, posting comments about sex and drugs, among other things. Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis called the posts “absolute filth.”
ACLU Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka said Ardis’ opinion of the posts doesn’t make a difference — the posts were parody, and protected speech.
“The truth is is that the content does not matter,” Yohnka said. “It’s not up to you or me to determine what content we like or don’t like.”
Yohnka said Ardis’ response to the Twitter parody crossed the line.
“The idea of the account was to have this Twitter account say things that the mayor would never say. That’s the precise nature of parody, which has always been protected in this country,” Yohnka said. “We don’t go after Saturday Night Live because they say things about a president or a powerful public official. We don’t go after a newspaper that writes a parody, or the Onion.”
Yohnka said Ardis could have ignored the tweets, or embraced them, but instead chose to violate Daniels’ First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights, by having police raid his home and seize computers over protected speech.
Daniel has filed a federal lawsuit against Ardis and other city and police officials in district court in Peoria. The lawsuit seeks compensation for property that was seized in the raid, and for being forced to miss work when he was brought in for questioning.
Ardis defended his actions in April, saying he felt his identity had been stolen, and that the twitter posts “went way over the line.”
The @Peoriamayor account was set up in late February or early march, and included a picture of Ardis and his city email address. According to the Peoria Journal Star, only later did it explicitly state it was a parody account. Twitter has since suspended the account, although the police raid was several weeks later.
Police investigated the case as possible impersonation of a public official, but Peoria County prosecutors declined to bring charges.
Yohnka said Ardis “brought to bear the power of the government to literally go on a manhunt for someone; not somebody who was engaged in criminal activity, but somebody who was simply using a smartphone to engage in parody.”