When Jon Daniel created a parody Twitter account of his town mayor, he never imaged it would result in him becoming nearly $130,000 richer.
Daniel created a spoof account of the Peoria, Illinois mayor, Jim Ardis. He created the account simply to entertain his friends with a stream of often profane and inappropriate tweets. He had no animosity toward the mayor, the account was created just for fun.
However, Ardis didn’t see the humor in his efforts. Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show how upset officials were as they tried to hold him criminally responsible for portraying Ardis as a foul-mouthed politician with a habit for liquor, drugs and prostitutes.
Instead of brushing off the parody account, which only had 50 followers and a few dozen tweets at the time, Ardis ordered the police to raid Daniel’s home. The account was shut down and Daniel’s electronics were seized. Daniel’s sued the mayor and the city, and is coming away with a hefty settlement of $125,000- most of which will go to paying his lawyers.
Another similar case, with a different type of celebrity, resulted in a $1 million lawsuit. Blake Shelton, a popular country singer, sued the tabloid magazine In Touch Weekly over an article published about his mental health. The article claimed that Shelton had been admitted into rehab after drinking heavily due to his separation from wife Miranda Lambert.
So what's the difference between a private celebrity citizen and a public figure? Do they have different freedoms with the press, different responsibilities? Were either of them in the wrong?
In my opinion, Blake Shelton did the right thing. The story was fake and was a case of defamation. The tabloid shouldn't have published a story that wasn’t true. He’s going through a divorce, which is already tough enough. It's not fair to him for articles like that to be released.
The mayor, however, was completely in the wrong. As a public figure, he should have handled the situation much more professionally. He could have brushed it off, called the guy out, or simply commented on all the tweets saying that the account was fake. Daniel clearly stated in the account bio that it was a parody and not the real account of the mayor. He made the account simply for fun, not to harm anyone. Since the mayor reacted the way he did, it drew more attention to the story and the parody Twitter account. What once was only 50 followers, now has a large following plus more parody accounts of the mayor were created. He could have saved himself a lot of trouble - and his job - if he had handled the incident differently.