Tenn. Bans 'Emotionally Distressing' Images on Social Networks?

Lora Bentley
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Don't Be a Loser:
Think Before You Post

Online users haven't learned much, as the number of those with "poster's remorse" has increased since last year.

In light of the failure of elected officials in the U.S. - or any of us anywhere really - to consistently exercise sound judgment regarding to whom and what they post on social networks, it comes as no surprise that Tennessee has a new law addressing the issue. SiliconValley.com reports Gov. Bill Haslam signed last week a bill that criminalizes posting to social networks images that cause emotional distress.


It would be hard to enforce such a law, wouldn't it? After all, any image could potentially distress someone. I dug a little deeper and found the law was intended to make it a crime to post an image on a social network with an intent to cause a particular person emotional distress. Rep. Charles Curtiss, who sponsored the law, told The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

We're talking about ... when somebody is intending to target an individual. We're not talking about putting a sock in someone's mouth so that they can't say anything.

As such, it seems the new law is an attempt to curb cyber-bullying by attaching fines and possible jail terms to the offense.



However, if that is indeed the case, lawmakers need to be more concise with language. Citing blogger Eugene Volokh, who says the law is so broad as to be unconstitutional, Ars Technica explains that as long as the offender has the malicious intent required, it doesn't matter whether the intended target is the individual who suffers the emotional distress. In fact:

Anyone who sees the image is a potential victim. If a court decides you "should have known" that an image you posted would be upsetting to someone who sees it, you could face months in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

Whether they meant to or not, Volokh says, lawmakers in Tennessee expanded the law's coverage from one-to-one communications that can cause emotional distress to any images posted to social network pages that could cause emotional distress to anyone of reasonable sensibilities.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 26, 2011 7:08 AM Brandt Hardin Brandt Hardin  says:

You can see my response to this new law as a Tennessee artist on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/07/potentially-offensive-portrait-governor.html with my portrait of our Governor Bill Haslam and his ravishing wife.


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