Repression might play in Peoria, but it’s getting panned by First Amendment experts and social media critics.
The mayor of Peoria, Ill., is catching fire from around the country after his police department raided a home last week to catch a Twitter user who set up a parody account, according to Fox News.
Citing the local Journal Star, Fox reported police officers armed with a search warrant entered a Peoria home where the man suspected of setting up the account lived, seizing personal computers and smart phones to find the person who set up an account #peoriamayor, that contained postings about illegal drug use and prostitution.
The charge on the warrant was impersonating a public official – a law intended to prevent people from being victimized by others pretending to be police officers; not intended for political suppression.
The postings were meant as a joke, the man who set up the account said. But Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, a Republican, didn’t think they were funny.
First Amendment scholars and Twitter users don’t think the raid was something to joke about either. There were no arrests in connection with the account, but a man who lived in the home – who did not set up the account — was charged with possession of marijuana, according to Fox.
The man who did set up the account was detained and questioned but released, according to Fox.
First Amendment attorneys said it was troubling.
“It chills people’s First Amendment rights to criticize officials,” Georgetown University law professor Angela Campbell told Fox. “Whether it’s through parody or just calling somebody a jerk.”
Loyola Law School professor Aaron Caplan also criticized the raid.
“This absolutely raises concerns from me. Under the Constitution, you can criticize people in power,” he told Fox. “It’s how you can tell the difference between a democracy and a police state. And you can do it through humor.”
Twitter users, as you might expect, were outraged.
— Jessica Chasmar (@JessicaChasmar) April 22, 2014
Peoria might want to worry more about public officials impersonating public officials than about parody Twitter accounts. #FreeSleezyD
— ConservativeLA (@ConservativeLA) April 20, 2014
@JessicaChasmar – The best part are the 10,000 Ardis parody accounts that popped up after. You can’t defeat the internet.
— TriNitroToluene (@smittie61984) April 22, 2014
No, you can’t in the long run.
But men with guns banging on your door make a pretty powerful argument in the short run.
And that’s one argument — political speech versus police state tactics — that should be happening in a place called America.
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