What is the new Tennessee law regarding internet photos and emotional distress all about?
The Tennessee legislature has recently passed a bill which will make it against the law to post some kinds of internet photos.
Offenders face a $2500 fine and up to around a year in jail if they are caught in the act of posting an image on the internet that is likely to ‘frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress.’ Most likely, this includes sexual and violent pictures posted on websites or on personal social media sites like Facebook and Myspace.
Why would legislators want to enact a law regulating internet photos and emotional distress?
Tennessee legislators, along with legislators across the globe feel that the freedom individuals have to express themselves with internet photos will cause problems if not restricted and regulated. Other countries have gone so far as to enact full-fledged censorship campaigns to restrain individuals from posting and viewing potentially inflammatory images. For example, the Chinese government filters any internet content regarding the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, and in an attempt to stop child pornography, the Australian government makes it illegal for some adult women with small breasts to pose nude on the internet.
While the Tennessee law internet photos law is likely not intended for blatant censorship of controversial political topics, the law grants broad authority to the state to determine what is or is not offensive. Basically, if a person is caught having posted an image online that causes a person emotional distress-even if that person was not meant or expected to view the image in the first place-the poster could be punished.
What has the response been to the Tennessee law concerning internet photos and emotional distress?
The Tennessee law has met a critical response from internet users, professors, and free speech enthusiasts alike. Some argue that this the Tennessee internet regulation will simply keep people from acting in a malicious way towards others, but many people assert that the law violates free speech laws and should have no place in a purportedly free society. Others claim that the US Supreme Court should invalidate the Tennessee internet regulation law as a violation of the principles of the Constitution.
Specific controversy concerns the fact that a person who posts an offensive image can be disciplined even if he or she did not intend for the ‘victim’ to view the post. Perhaps the law would have met less controversy if it was a restriction on sending unwanted images to people who did not want to see them, rather than a blanket restriction, punishing even posters with no intent to harm or offend the viewing party.
Critics further claim punishing internet photos or online posts that cause a viewer ‘emotional distress’ is hard to enforce because no objective standards exists to determine exactly what a reasonable person would be offended by seeing.