‘Bogus’ Facebook page stirs controversy

This image appears as the profile photo for “The City of Dunkirk 2.0,” a Facebook page that satirizes the city and local news headlines. The actual city of Dunkirk Facebook page shows a photo of the official city seal.

A “bogus Facebook” site has upset city of Dunkirk officials.

In a city of Dunkirk Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon, the mayor noted the site “The City of Dunkirk” is “showing information that is inaccurate and that is not representative of our official Facebook Page which is ‘City of Dunkirk.'” Law-enforcement officials and the county District Attorney’s office have been made aware of the site and there is an investigation.

Comments regarding the city’s post have brought criticism and laughter. One comment noted “No one can take a joke anymore” while another noted the city administration response is an “over-reaction.”

On Wednesday, a “cease and desist letter” from the City of Dunkirk Law Department was posted to the satirical city of Dunkirk page. The letter, written by city attorney Richard J. Morrisroe, demands that the page be taken down.

“This page creates a false association with Dunkirk and its actual Facebook page, and is in direct violation of New York State Penal Law 190.25(4), Criminal Impersonation in the 2nd Degree, Internet or Electronic Impersonation of Another,” the letter states.

Morrisroe also claims the page’s posts are a violation of civil law. “They constitute defamation and unfair business practices, and violate numerous state and federal statutes. So you can be sued by Dunkirk for these legal violations as well,” Morrisroe writes.

“The City of Dunkirk” page was deleted as of Wednesday night; however, on Thursday afternoon, the page appeared to be reincarnated as “The City of Dunkirk 2.0.”

Under their “Community Standards,” Facebook prohibits users from “creating a profile assuming the persona of or speaking for another person or entity” and “creating a Page assuming to be or speak for another person or entity for whom the user is not authorized to do so.” Additionally, the standards prohibit inauthentic behavior that attempts to mislead people about the content.

However, both the original page, “The City of Dunkirk” and “The City of Dunkirk 2.0” self-identified as “satire” in the “About” section of the page and made no claim to be representing the city. In fact, “The City of Dunkirk 2.0” Facebook handle is “@notthecityofdunkirk.”

The original page and its latest version spoof local news headlines from multiple sources including the OBSERVER and the mayor’s office. In their first post as “The City of Dunkirk 2.0,” the page shared a photo of men in hardhats working underground, with the following caption: “We’re working up getting the page up and running. Spectrum is having a hard time getting our WiFi working correctly down here in our new set up in one of the potholes on Central Avenue. Please be patient.”

The post appears to spoof an April 10 post by the city of Dunkirk, which shows two DPW workers below ground level, working to repair the water line break on the 100-block of Central Avenue.

Satirical Facebook pages exist for other nearby cities including Buffalo and Warren, Pennsylvania. “The City of Buffalo @BuffaloOnTheBookFace” has over 9,700 followers and “Warren County Pennsylvania” has more than 23,000 followers to date. The “About” section of all three pages state, “We are the Satire Government you have always dreamed of! The city of Buffalo/Dunkirk/Warren is not responsible or liable for things on the internet.”

Satire and parody exist in multiple formats, from Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” to “The Onion,” a Chicago-based digital satirical news source that has mocked international, national and local news since 1988. Though similar in nature and intent, satire is a literary form of mockery or ridicule and parody is essentially imitative work, such as “Weird Al” Yankovic’s musical parodies or the “Scary Movie” franchise’s parodies of popular horror shows and movies. While both are subject to laws regarding copyright, trademarks and defamation, they are generally protected by the free expression clause of the First Amendment.

In an article published by the Free Speech Center and the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies, James L. Walker explains, “The key distinction between satire and defamation is that satire is not meant to be believed by the audience. Satire is biting, critical, and designed to attack, often with malice. It is almost always false.”

Walker provides the example of the 1988 case, Hustler Magazine V. Falwell, in which Rev. Jerry Falwell was depicted as an incestuous drunk in a magazine ad. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist ruled that it could not be defamation since it was an obvious parody, not intended as a statement of fact. “To find otherwise, the Court said, was to endanger First Amendment protection for every artist, political cartoonist, and comedian who used satire to criticize public figures,” Walker pointed out.

Calls to Morrisroe, Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano and District Attorney Patrick Swanson were not returned as of Thursday evening. The OBSERVER sent a message to “The City of Dunkirk 2.0” for comment, but did not receive a reply.