Creator of spoofed police Facebook page may be charged with felony

On 2 March 2016, some joker posted a Facebook page that spoofed a police department, replete with fake news posts and insults.

The site’s since been taken down.

Its alleged creator, 27-year-old Anthony Novak, of the US city of Parma, Ohio, was arrested on Friday.

Now, he’s facing a potential felony charge of disrupting public services with his supposedly-satirical Facebook account named TheCityOf­Parma­Police­Department.

Before the parody page was taken down, the NY Daily News and Cleveland.com spotted posts along these lines:

  • A suggestion that it would be illegal to help the homeless.
  • A post about a food drive that would help fund free abortions for teens, using an experimenta” technique developed by the police and to be carried out in a van stationed in the parking lot.
  • An advertisement for a “Pedophile Reform event” that offered sex offenders an opportunity as an “honorary police officer of the Parma Police Department.”
  • A post that read “Parma is an equal opportunity employer but is strongly encouraging minorities not to apply.”
  • A phony explanation of how the department goes about selecting new recruits: “The test will consist of a 15 question multiple choice definition test followed by a hearing test. Should you pass you will be accepted as an officer of the Parma Police Department.”

Funny, or a menace to the populace?

There are a whole lot of commenters opting for the “oh, puh-LEEZ” option and telling the police to just get over themselves.

On the same day that the fake page went up, the real Parma Police Department put up a Facebook post on its real Facebook page, warning the public about the satirical page and telling them to ignore anything posted there:

The Parma Police Department would like to warn the public that a fake Parma Police Facebook page has been created. This matter is currently being investigated by the Parma Police Department and Facebook. This is the Parma Police Department’s official Facebook page.

The public should disregard any and all information posted on the fake Facebook account. The individual(s) who created this fake account are not employed by the police department in any capacity and were never authorized to post information on behalf of the department.

One reply that captures the “oh, puh-LEEZ” side of things:

Have you cops ever heard of a thing called satire? Or do you just not care?

You have arrested this man on false charges and should feel like authoritarian scum. You are censoring free speech. You simply can’t deal with criticism or harmless jokes, which makes you look like a bunch of toddlers masquerading as some figure of false authority. You know nothing of justice…

Minus the actual content, the facsimile that Novak allegedly put up was very convincing: same font, same coloring, same photo of a Parma badge, same gold seal. The fake one does slip in the article “the” in front of its name, which the real police omit on their page.

Other differences amounted to these, according to Cleveland.com:

  • The fake page was listed with the category of “community,” instead of the real page’s cartegories of “police station, government organization.”
  • The “About” section of the fake page listed “We no crime.” The real page listed the police address and website.
  • The real page had 4,600 followers, as opposed to the bogus page’s 300.
  • The real page was created in 2011, whereas the fake one was spawned in 2016.

Since Novak was arrested, more parody accounts of the Parma Police Department have sprung up in protest, including “For Real Parma Police Department Page,” “City of Parma Police” and “The Parma Police Department.”

Their content is predictable: pigs dressed in blue, the face of a wailing baby.

It’s not clear whether the creators of these new parody accounts will also be arrested.

Is this a question of the police curtailing free speech? Parody and satire are protected by such laws, after all.

But the bogus site that Novak allegedly cooked up wasn’t exactly what you’d call on par with The Onion when it comes to insightful, witty commentary.

When you subtract funniness and misrepresent a site that posts defamatory content as though it belongs to an official law enforcement department, you’re straying pretty far from it being a laughing matter.

Is wit in the eye of the beholder? Some people may find it hilarious to suggest that pedophiles would be welcome on their local police force, or that the department discriminates when hiring.

Others might find such the vitriolic spewing of a troll, done up in the guise of a legitimate law enforcement site.

Readers, what do you think? Should Parma Police be satisfied that they got the parody site – one that borders on a phishing site – taken down?

Or should they also prosecute Novak on the grounds that you just shouldn’t mess with an official service that people really do need when things go wrong?

Please share your thoughts below.

Novak made his first court appearance on Monday. A grand jury will ultimately decide if he’s going to face trial for his alleged offense.

He could face a prison sentence of up to 18 months if found guilty.

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Image of handcuffs courtesy of Shutterstock.com

 

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