Mayor Ardis & city's response to fake twitter sparks online controversy

By WEEK Reporter

April 18, 2014 Updated Apr 18, 2014 at 7:20 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- An online controversy centering on Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis continues to build. It started when someone made a fake twitter account posing as the mayor.

Tuesday night, Peoria Police raided a Peoria home--questioning suspects, and taking computers and other electronic devices as evidence.

No charges have yet been filed. The investigation is ongoing.

Meanwhile, many users on the web are tweeting their two-cents, and experts are on the fence about who's "right."

You may notice Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis popping up on your computer screen.

"This story has been picked up all over the world," said Bradley University Interactive Media specialist Dr. Monica McGill. "It's portraying the mayor in not a very positive light."

Dr. McGill has been monitoring social media regarding the fake twitter since Peoria Police started their investigation of the fake account. She says the "Twitterverse" has spoken. Now, more than seven parody accounts exist.

"I think it's an in your face you cant touch us kind of message," said Dr. McGill.

Many of the tweets claim the city's response to the fake account is encroaching freedom of speech. Dr. McGill thinks it may have been better if the original account was simply ignored.

"It had about 50 followers. Nobody was really paying attention and now everyone knows what's going on," said Dr. McGill.

However, other experts like attorney Kevin Sullivan disagree.

"I think the mayor was correct in thinking, 'Let's put an end to this right now, and send a message that we're not going to tolerate this kind of behavior.' It makes sense, " said Sullivan.

Sullivan says--if its impersonation---the law is on Mayor Ardis' side. Impersonating a public figure is a class three felony punishable by a 2-5 year sentencing. The big question is whether the account qualifies as impersonation or parody.