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A fake Twitter account can potentially lead to real criminal consequences, beginning with your arrest.
Just ask Jacob L. Elliott, 36, who was arrested after police served a search warrant on a home where they believed someone was operating a Twitter account posing as the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, the Peoria Journal Star reports.
Technically, Elliott was booked on drug charges and not in connection with the @peoriamayor account. Still, how can a fake Twitter account get you arrested?
Posing as Someone Else on Twitter May Be Illegal
Although police didn't arrest anyone in connection with the fake Peoria mayor's Twitter account, they did obtain a search warrant based on its existence.
Posing as someone else may be a time-honored device in Greek and Shakespearean comedies, but it is also illegal in many states. For example, in Illinois, it is a Class A misdemeanor to falsely represent yourself as a public officer or public employee. That includes posing as the mayor of Peoria on Twitter.
According to the Journal Star, the @peoriamayor account began tweeting around late February, with pictures of the actual mayor, Jim Ardis, and links to his city email address. It wasn't until mid-March that the account revealed itself as a parody.
Police, however, were not convinced it was an "obvious" satirical account, noting that its creators went to great lengths to convince followers that @peoriamayor was real.
Joke or Crime?
There are analogous laws in most states which punish those who hold themselves out to be a public official or public-safety officers. If you pretend to be a police officer, for example, you will likely be arrested.
When online, the lines become blurrier. Fake celebrity Twitter accounts seem to be plentiful, and as long as the accounts aren't used maliciously, you may be able to fly under law enforcement's radar. However, as the @peoriamayor account suggests, creating fake accounts for any public figure, not just a famous private citizen, can be a recipe for disaster.
You may be able to get off the hook by explaining it was a joke, but as most Twitter pranksters learn, a joke is more than enough to get you arrested.