Twitter parody accounts might seem like a laughing matter, but in Peoria, Illinois, the creation of one led to warrants, a raid, arrests and a $125,000 out-of-court settlement, according to The New York Times.
Peoria resident Jonathan Daniel registered an account in March 2014 to parody the town's mayor, Jim Ardis. Using Ardis' picture, linking to the city website and posting about drug use, Daniel labeled the account as parody and said after the settlement "the Twitter account was a joke for me and for my friends," the Times article said.
According to The Washington Times, however, city officials didn't think Daniel's parody account was worthy of a retweet, but rather a raid.
"That April, four armed officers raided the residence shared by Mr. Daniel and his roommates and confiscated computers, smartphones and video game consoles as part of their investigation," The Washington Times reported. "Officials had hoped to prosecute the person behind the account with crimes related to impersonating a public official, but charges were never bought."
Instead, Illinois' American Civil Liberties Union branch filed the suit settled Wednesday that challenged the account's closure, the exposure of Daniel as the account's administrator and the investigation and arrest, The Washington Times' article indicated.
According to The New York Times, compounded with the $125,000 out-of-court settlement, Peoria's police would announce a directive saying the city "recognized that charges related to false impersonation of a public official should not apply to online parodies or satires."
Online parody accounts, like Daniel's @peoriamayor, are often made to inspire laughter. But, in some cases, online parodies are lucrative and created to make money, according to Slate.
"Spend enough time down the social media marketing rabbit hole, and you’ll discover endless strategies for making money off of parody Twitter," Amanda Hess of Slate wrote.
Of those strategies, the "influencers" behind parody accounts connect brands with people, tweet ad links and engage followers in products advertised in their tweets, Slate reported.
More recently, they've been "purged" from Twitter for supposedly failing to follow the site's policies, and, Hess wrote, influencers lost as many as 60 million followers this summer because of suspended accounts.
According to Slate, account holders "bent a Twitter rule or two by engaging in prohibited behaviors like buying and selling usernames, trading 'fake engagements' like paid retweets, or spamming their followers with affiliate links that lure them off of Twitter and into a bogus diet ad."
Many of them also plagiarise, too, Hess wrote.
For example, Common White Girl — an account with 5.64 million followers — took its avatar from "Cinderella" and often grabs tweets verbatim from other people.
Like Daniel of Peoria's account, Common White Girl takes material from other sources and claims it to be its own. And yet, unlike Daniel, Common White Girl hasn't faced any major legal trouble.
That's because in a social media-driven world, ripped off jokes' original sources go unnoticed, according to New Republic.
"What matters is how much we laugh, not how much creative effort was put into crafting, fine-tuning, and delivering a joke as a completed, marketable product," Ethan Gates of New Republic wrote. "That tendency has only gotten worse with the Internet — once a funny GIF goes viral, no one sharing it on Twitter or Facebook really knows who made it or where it came from."
Giving credit, then, may be the best practice.
Gates' article stated "validating someone's intellectual effort" proves as important today as ever — though it's more difficult in the Internet's sprawl.
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Payton Davis is the Deseret News National intern. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, @Davis_DNN.