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Attorneys come to defense of Twitter parody creators

 

 

 

Carl Smith

 

A consortium of Starkville and out-of-town lawyers have told the Dispatch they're willing to represent the person or persons behind two parody Twitter accounts which have recently come under investigation by Starkville Police Department. 

 

At least two local lawyers told the Dispatch last week they'd represent the people satirizing Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 3 Alderman David Little if charges are filed. 

 

An out-of-town lawyer offered his services after the Dispatch reported that a court order asking Twitter for personal information -- names, IP addresses and other data -- pertinent to the Little parody was signed by Judge Jim Kitchens on Aug. 19. Another out-of-state reader reached out to the Little parody account creator through the Dispatch, saying he could put him or her in connection with lawyers who have handled similar cases. 

 

So far, the Dispatch is unaware of any pending charges. A similar court order for information about the @BenCarverPrays account was developed but unsigned. 

 

On background, multiple lawyers referenced the parody creator's need to "get ahead of the investigation." Lawyers asked the Dispatch not to reveal their identity as to not interfere with attorneys who might already be representing the parody creator. 

 

A new Little parody account, @DLcantscareme, emerged Thursday on Twitter. The account, which is clearly marked as a parody, contains a bold biography written by its manager: "Parody account created by someone who has read the United States Constitution and will not be bullied by thin-skinned local politicians (or their mommies)." The user's location, which is a self-entered data block, references the case's recent update: "Hidden (until court order)." 

 

The parody's profile picture features an image of a smiling Little breathing fake fire. 

 

The Dispatch reached out to @DLcantscareme Thursday, but the user declined an interview. It is unknown if the person is the same one behind the Little account under investigation. 

 

It is also unknown if the SPD investigation will expand to include the new account. 

 

The recent court order cites Miss. Code Annotated 97-7-43, which lays the groundwork for misdemeanor claims against "whoever falsely and willfully assumes or pretends to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the State of Mississippi," including municipalities. 

 

The crime carries a maximum possible penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine. 

 

Court documents filed by SPD Det. William Durr, the case's lead investigator, state the Little parody was "created in the name of David Little and then later renamed to be a parody account. After the discovery of this account, it was confirmed that there was no authorization by David Little to create any Twitter account in his name." 

 

It is unclear if the original Little parody account was marked as such when it was created since it was deleted following the launch of SPD's investigation. Language in the court order asks for Twitter information to determine "whether the account was presented as a parody or if it claimed to originate" from Little himself. 

 

Twitter officials confirmed an SPD request to preserve data for both the original Little parody account and @BenCarverPrays on Aug. 2. The social media company has yet to present the district attorney's office with any information. 

 

SPD launched its investigation when Little filed a formal complaint with the entity near the end of July. The two parody accounts began lampooning Little and Carver shortly after the Starkville Board of Aldermen forced former Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill from her post that same month. 

 

The Carver parody account's name references the alderman's admission that he prayed about the CAO move casting his vote. It was Carver's motion that ousted the city's second in command. 

 

The source of the @BenCarverPrays account told the Dispatch he suspended the parody when SPD launched its investigation, but the account went live again this week. 

 

"Where are my Ward 1 folks at? Throw your hands up! Or put them together," the account posted Monday. 

 

Both Little and Carver were interviewed by detectives, SPD previously confirmed. 

 

The Dispatch has been unable to reach Little for a proper interview this week. Carver did call the Dispatch, asking how it obtained documents associated with an ongoing investigation. 

 

The Dispatch filed a formal Freedom of Information Act request with SPD Chief David Lindley on Tuesday. 

 

According to the social media company's usage policies, parody Twitter accounts are allowed as long as the creator the account makes it clear the account is not the same as the subject of the parody.

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch

 

 

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