Tenn. law bans posting images that ‘cause emotional distress’
Yet another example of state legislative overreach… In addition to their already stringent personal harassment law, the Tennessee legislature has added “images to the list of communications that can trigger criminal liability”, as Ars Technica put it.
But for image postings, the “emotionally distressed” individual need not be the intended recipient. 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.
If you think that sounds unconstitutional, you’re not alone. In a blog post, constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh points out just how broad the legislation is. The law doesn’t require that the picture be of the “victim,” nor would the government need to prove that you intended the image to be distressing. Volokh points out that a wide variety of images, “pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults of some political group,” could “cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities,” triggering liability. He calls the bill “pretty clearly unconstitutional.”
So if you know someone in Tennessee, don’t send them any links to ANYTHING that could be considered “patently offensive” by anyone with an emotional maturity of a Fundamentalist congregation at a Tea Party rally. No LOLcats, no Funny or Die, no hilarious wipeout videos on YouTube…
Unless, of course, you have the financial resources to survive while you provide a nice test case so that the ACLU and the EFF can take this to court and get it struck down.