Post A Picture That 'Causes Emotional Distress' And You Could Face Jailtime In Tennesseeby Mike Masnick, Techdirt
Jun. 07, 2011
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Over the last few years, we've seen a troubling trend in various state laws which attempt to come up with ways to outlaw being a jerk online. Many of these are based on politicians and/or the public taking an emotional reaction to something bad happening after some does something online that angered someone else. Of course, while it would be nice if jerks would go away or jerky behavior would cease, that's just not realistic. The real issue is: how can it be constitutional to outlaw being a jerk? In many cases it raises serious First Amendment issues, among other things. The latest to jump into this game is the state of Tennessee, which apparently decided that just throwing people in jail for sharing music subscription passwords wasn't enough: now they want to put people in jail for "causing emotional distress" to others.
The specific law outlaws posting a photo online that causes "emotional distress" to someone and has no "legitimate purpose." While the law does state that there needs to be "malicious intent," it also includes a massive loophole, in that it says that you can still be liable if the person "reasonably should know" that the actions would "frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress." Eugene Volokh notes all sorts of problems with this:
Honestly, any time you have a law where the liability is based on how some other person feels, you've got a pretty serious problem. You can criminalize actions, but making someone a criminal because someone else feels "emotional distress" seems like a huge stretch.