Questionable Court Order Says Twitter Must Reveal Owner Of Political Parody Account

from the that's-not-how-it-works dept

Here's another wacky one involving some parody Twitter accounts. Apparently some local aldermen (city council) in Starkville, Mississippi have become upset about some parody accounts on Twitter. One of them, David Little, filed a police complaint leading to a wacky investigation that appears to include a police detective setting up a fake Twitter account himself, claiming to be a reporter, and asking the guy behind one of the parody accounts to call him -- giving out the known phone number of the detective. Either way, the police then went to court, and stunningly got Judge Jim Kitchens to order Twitter to reveal who's behind the parody accounts. That's not how it's supposed to work. Anonymity and parody are protected forms of speech, and just because you have a local official who doesn't like being parodied doesn't mean that a court can just order the person unmasked. There's a long string of First Amendment cases that note that anonymity should be strongly protected.

The law that is used to claim this unmasking is legit is one focused on outlawing real impersonation, not parody. And as Adam Steinbaugh explains, the order is almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment, and seems to twist the local statute (which is also written too broadly in the first place). The whole thing is a mess, basically, where it appears you have local politicians who can't handle being parodied, a bizarre "investigation" into the accounts, combined with a judge who signs off on a First Amendment-defying order. What a complete mess. Thankfully, it sounds like a bunch of lawyers are jumping in and offering to help out whoever is behind those parody accounts.

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