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.
Image of handcuffs courtesy of Shutterstock.com
17 comments on “Creator of spoofed police Facebook page may be charged with felony”
I’m firmly in the “puhlease” camp. It is unfortunate that police in all countries develop a barracks mentality, where they feel everyone is against them and the answer us to lash out. (And yes, after many years in the military I do know what a barracks mentality is – I had it once)
In this instance they should discover a sense of humour. If they had half a brain they would invite “the criminal” to add a humourous column to their own efforts
Why do the police need a Facebook page anyway? If you run an official organisation, you run an official web site over which you have complete control and are responsible for security. A Facebook page for an organisation is only to make you look in touch and trendy, and is an open invitation to parody if it is on a site that has very little control or security.
Believing things written on Facebook is about on a par with believing things written in the UK tabloid press and the tooth fairy.
Satire (even bad satire) is protected free speech in the U.S., and it doesn’t sound like any real harm was done. I hope the police come to their senses before they get sued.
Did you seriously just call a PD Facebook page “an official service that people really do need when things go wrong”?
I think the official service referred to is the police department itself, and the Facebook page is an effective pointer to it. So misleading people about what that police service is all about is…well, it’s not really terribly clever, is it? A bit like “satirically” messing with the signposts to the next village because you don’t like it. Thin lines between satire | mockery | libel | deception.
Two thumbs up for the Anonymous comment: “Satire (even bad satire) is protected free speech in the U.S., and it doesn’t sound like any real harm was done.” But there seems little hope that the police will respect that. But if they end up being sued – only the citizens will suffer a loss – not the LEO’s in question.
This is ridiculous. They need a serious sense of humour bypass as well as a crash course in the Streisand Effect.
What we don’t know yet is if he responded to direct messages to the page without revealing that he wasn’t actually an official within the Parma PD. If this is the case then that would be firm grounds for the arrest and felony charges. There are a lot of posts we haven’t seen as well. I’m interested in seeing what evidence comes to light during the hearing. I’m on then fence until we know more.
I have 50-50 feelings on this. YES satire and free speech should be protected, so Mr. Novak does not deserve jail time or a felony charge for this. However we must admit that he walked a fine line, and gambled a bit, by putting the page up and by not making it ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that it was a parody page. If you want to “create art” or “satire” that is fine but he should have made it abundantly clear through the messaging that it was a joke page. A simple disclaimer stating “This page is for entertainment and satirical purposes only, and does not have any affiliation with the real Parma Police Department” plus maybe even a link to the real page, would have helped his cause. I have a problem with people taking a puh-lease approach and getting all Alex Jones-y on government overreach. Grow up people… pranks are ok but if you consider yourself an intelligent, fair-minded person, then realize that the Police are busy and don’t need to be f***ked with for some dumb prank, flying under the banner of pseudo-art. And “art” is a stretch to be perfectly honest with you. (Oh look at you…making fun of police and calling them pigs… how edgy and original). Mr. Novak would be a happier man (and would get more dates) if he opted to pick up a guitar, paintbrush or typewriter and go make some real art. This prank stuff is pedestrian.
This is an overreach by the Police department. No Facebook page should ever be considered an “Emergency Service”.
It is an alternative communication source, but should not be considered the equivalent of 911
Will News Corp go after The Onion next?
Hustler Magazine, Inc. et al. v. Jerry Falwell — Nothing more be said. It is constitutionally protected speech. And the law (http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2909.04) doesn’t apply. This was malicious arrest under false pretenses and the EFF should be brought in.
I can see 3 items in that link you posted that Mr. Novak is possibly guilty of.
I don’t see any that he is guilty of.
Free speech is not a defense when it breaks the law. Make no mistake about it – Mr. Novak purposefully misrepresented an official agency, without a clear indication that it was parody/entertainment, and THAT is why the argument is being made that he attempted to disrupt public services. Free Speech does not mean that words are immune to the rule of law. For example Libel is illegal because it is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts, and that is why reporters are culpable in court if they are deliberately printing lies, and can not simply hide behind the banner of free speech. To offer some more clarity, “Free Speech” refers to many things, one of which is the right of the people to speak out and not fear retaliation from the government. (Meaning a stand up comedian won’t get arrested because he made a joke about how stupid President Bush was). It also protects unpopular ideas… so even though it is deplorable, some racist redneck can print all the ignorant racist cartoons that he wants, as long as in doing so, he does not break any laws (like Libel or making death threats). Don’t use Free Speech – one of the most beautiful ideals the world has known – as a cover for purposefully breaking the law (in this case disrupting public services). If Mr. Novak wanted to create “art” (lol) then he needs to do so within the bounds of the law like everybody else. He should have made it VERY CLEAR that the page was a joke, and by the sound of it he did not do that. “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.” Mr. Novak dug his own grave. He did not make any clear efforts to indicate to the audience that the page was parody/entertainment (other than the frivolous content), and that is where he went wrong.
What the hell are companies doing on Facebook anyway, it’s social media where only a individual can log in. Therefore police departments or any other kind of company don’t belong there. Facebook sucks big time anyway. That police department should not waste public money.
Facebook is only for individuals?
Let’s see…well, Facebook has a Facebook page. So does Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Adobe…you’d better let all those companies know they aren’t supposed to be there.
Hmmm. The US Marines (with about 3,000,000 Likes) are on Facebook too. Maybe you should ask *them*, “What the hell are you doing on Facebook?”