Post A Picture That 'Causes Emotional Distress' And You Could Face Jailtime In Tennessee

from the outlawing-jerks? dept

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:

  1. If you?re posting a picture of someone in an embarrassing situation ? not at all limited to, say, sexually themed pictures or illegally taken pictures ? you?re likely a criminal unless the prosecutor, judge, or jury concludes that you had a ?legitimate purpose.?
  2. Likewise, if you post an image intended to distress some religious, political, ethnic, racial, etc. group, you too can be sent to jail if governments decisionmaker thinks your purpose wasn?t ?legitimate.? Nothing in the law requires that the picture be of the ?victim,? only that it be distressing to the ?victim.?
  3. The same is true even if you didn?t intend to distress those people, but reasonably should have known that the material ? say, pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults of some political group ? would ?cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities.?
  4. And of course the same would apply if a newspaper or TV station posts embarrassing pictures or blasphemous images on its site.

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.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Post A Picture That 'Causes Emotional Distress' And You Could Face Jailtime In Tennessee”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
116 Comments
Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

My Repost From That Thread

I?m sure the hard-as-nails police departments around TN will feel very ?emotionally distressed? when someone posts their dirty laundry to YouTube. What possible ?legitimate purpose? could the filmmakers have for showing our fine boys in blue dispensing ?justice? to an uppity citizen? They were obviously just trying to start something.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: My Repost From That Thread

> I?m sure the hard-as-nails police departments around TN
> will feel very ?emotionally distressed? when someone posts
> their dirty laundry to YouTube.

Best way to get around any of this is email the video/image to someone in another state and have them post it to YouTube or whatever. Tennessee law doesn’t bind the entire world. Only people in Tennessee.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Tennessee

What’s pathetic here is the willingness of so many to roast PRMan, when he has claimed no religious affiliation.

All he’s done is suggest the inclusion of opposing viewpoints and without any evidence you’ve jumped to mockery. Your Reason Fairy thinks you’re an idiot.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Tennessee

Well then allow me to make fun of origins science as a whole–evolution AND creationism inclusively.

Science applies to what can be observed. The notion of a science of origins is oxymoronic, and furthermore the ongoing debate between the two has got to be the most annoying meme in the history of human communication.

HothMonster says:

Re: Re: Tennessee

dont mock him guys, this happened:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Fh-hZyDRmV8/TVWwn6GEFFI/AAAAAAAACe0/9010z6949PU/s1600/raptor-jesus-battles-the-unicorns-ps-the-unico-17918-1234478698-9.jpg

Its well known that evolution is incomplete, so instead of study it and work on filling in the gaps we should give credence to a complete pile of horse shit that laughs in the face of every scientific fact from the past 200 years.

Obviously Christians only believe in things that are 100% irrefutable that is why they believe in God because the bible makes it all irrefutable because its written by god

Keroberos (profile) says:

And the mommyfication of U.S. society takes another step closer to the perfect ideal.

Seriously ‘causing emotional distress’, WTF does that even mean. Just about anything can be defined as capable of causing emotional distress.

Seriously, when did we start thinking it would be a good idea to start legislating free speech just because someone might get their feelings hurt.

I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it

SDAttorney (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hmmm...I wonder...

Isn’t there a legitimate purpose for any action, otherwise one wouldn’t act. What is an example of an illegitimate purpose? Is pissing someone off or causing emotional distress a legitimate purpose? May depend on what they’ve done to you, right? And if what they’ve done to you is a subjective standard, then who are we to determine whether the re-action was legitimate? Hmmm. I didn’t mean to get philosophical but I think there’s a point in there somewhere.

Joe Publius (profile) says:

Sheer Stupidity

Redundant, dumb, and opressive. Here’s why.

Reading the bill they also have a condition that the vicitm has to have a “reasonable expectation” of viewing it. The only way you could argue that the vicitm has a reasonable expectation of view the materials is by sending it directly to the target. If somebody sends phone calls, letters, emails, Facebook posts to someone with the intent and result of genuine distress, isn’t that just good old-fashioned harrassment, or if threatening direct violence, assault?

Was this bill written by some guy who’s mom showed his prom date naked baby pictures?

Jason says:

Re: Sheer Stupidity

“If somebody sends phone calls, letters, emails, Facebook posts to someone with the intent and result of genuine distress, isn’t that just good old-fashioned harrassment..?”

No, because harrassment is also a civil matter. This is harrassment on the internet–WAY MORE INTENSER!! CRIME!!!
THE CHILDREN!! WAAAAAHHHH!!!

Justin (profile) says:

Jurisdiction

How does the jurisdiction work on this? Do I have to be in the state when I post/send the picture? just pass through there once so they can get me? Come get me anyways just because I pissed somebody off, even though my state does not have a ridiculous law like this? sounds like this is going to be a law that they can’t really enforce that well.

HothMonster says:

IANAL | Being as I am not a citizen of Tennessee but am a US citizen if I posted a bunch of photoshops of the Tennessee supreme court having rabid sex with each other and a selection of animals with the “illegitimate” purpose of distressing them emotionally could I be charged? I mean since they are viewing my actions in Tennessee am I therefore “in” Tennessee breaking the law? Or would I have to physically go to Tennessee and upload the pictures from there for it to effect me?

Beta (profile) says:

a flaw in the rules

Since this is criminal law, not civil, people will get in trouble about it only if the DA wants them to, so it is basically impossible for ordinary citizens to force the issue. It is blatantly unconstitutional, so we can hope that no one will ever actually go to jail for breaking it, but it remains a threat until it is declared unconstitutional.

And here’s the kicker: there is no penalty for lawmakers who enact this kind of trash. Well, unless the voters wake up enough to… No, no penalty.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: a flaw in the rules

I’ve long believed that using official authority to knowingly and willfully subvert or violate the constitution should be prosecuted as treason. Being poorly educated might save you from your first offense, but you’d likely get a court-ordered education on the constitution.

As a bonus, it would tend to keep lawyers out of government, since it would make it really hazardous for them, as they would be incapable of pleading ignorance as a defense without committing perjury.

Keroberos (profile) says:

On Further Reflecion...

I thought of a something they could add to this law that would make me a whole-hearted supporter of it.

Anyone wanting to press charges under this law would be mandated to have sight, hearing, speech, and their fingers and toes surgically removed; or to sign a waiver never to make a complaint using this law ever again.

Win-win for all sides, those signing the waiver will have to learn how to just suck it up and deal like the rest of us; and those accepting surgical alteration will no longer be able to communicate in any meaningful manner so will no longer have to worry about their delicate feelings hurt ever again.

-=rjh=- says:

Could happen to almost anyone

One of the things I’ve noticed with the growth of privately run fora replacing the more robust usenet groups, is willingness to shut down contentious issues, and this gives another tool (or at least, the threat of using it) that furthers this trend.

Look at what happened to the discussion around this photo, which polarised opinion between those who found it offensive and those who did not:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1041&message=36738721

Thomas (profile) says:

What about

news sites? CNN posts plenty of pictures online that can cause emotional distress. In fact any news site posts pictures that can cause emotional distress. And if it’s based on how a person feels, then we can complain about any picture posted.

And how will the state of Tenn be able to prosecute people who don’t even live in that state, much less in the u.s.?

Sometimes I can’t figure out if the stupidest politicians are in the state legislatures or the federal government. Both seem to be complete idiots.

Glaze (profile) says:

Hey TN

Maybe you should stop screwing your parents and your kin and get your head out of your ass and stop passing stupid laws…

I hope that caused emotional distress to somebodies mothersister. Can I go to jail for that? Oh wait i don’t live in TN… so i don’t think so… last time i checked we still had some first ammendment rights in MN…

That Anonymous Coward says:

While Goatse and 1 Guy 1 Jar would seem to be the right response, it is only going to convince them they are right.

When you haul the religious minded people into court for daring to post anti-abortion pictures, they will end up very confused. Because the standard they are using is not what the “average” person would find distressing, but only those who share the same ideals would find distressing.

This is one of those laws quickly passed to create warm fuzzy feelings in a certain demographic. We won’t grab YOUR balls when you want to fly. We won’t tap YOUR phones without a warrant. It is short sighted and a waste of energy to work yourself into a lather. I would suggest instead it is much better to calmly pick an easy target and demand the law be enforced.

Humane society, Homeless Children, “Church” Groups, The Red Cross, All Media outlets, and have yourself a field day as they try to explain how that is not how it is supposed to work, enjoy watching them get the pimp slap to the back of the head they seem to desperately need.

Carmen Hawes (profile) says:

Laws like this are passed to support the corruption

Laws like this are passed in Tennessee to support the corruption in the police departments and judicial system. Google “corruption in Tennessee” and start reading, and reading, and reading, and reading…. the corruption is rampant! My husband and I moved here from California several years ago and we are trying to decide on whether to stay and protest the corruption or get the heck out of here. Unless the locals start standing up for themselves, I think I would prefer to do the latter. How do you help people who cannot or will not help themselves? The corruption in the health care community has caused me so much in the way of my health and peace of mind. I am in my 50’s and am scared to death of spending my retirement years here. A lot of people die here early deaths because of the corruption. The police and the courts are even worse. You’ll see! Just remember to google “corruption in Tennessee” and start reading. Maybe some of you outside this state can make some phone calls to put pressure on the FBI or someone to come in here and help us. Just read the stories, and do what you can. As far as this law, well they have a reason for passing this law. After you read the stories about the corruption, you will understand.

Carmen Hawes (profile) says:

Laws like this are passed to support the corruption

Laws like this are passed in Tennessee to support the corruption in the police departments and judicial system. Google “corruption in Tennessee” and start reading, and reading, and reading, and reading…. the corruption is rampant! My husband and I moved here from California several years ago and we are trying to decide on whether to stay and protest the corruption or get the heck out of here. Unless the locals start standing up for themselves, I think I would prefer to do the latter. How do you help people who cannot or will not help themselves? The corruption in the health care community has caused me so much in the way of my health and peace of mind. I am in my 50’s and am scared to death of spending my retirement years here. A lot of people die here early deaths because of the corruption. The police and the courts are even worse. You’ll see! Just remember to google “corruption in Tennessee” and start reading. Maybe some of you outside this state can make some phone calls to put pressure on the FBI or someone to come in here and help us. Just read the stories, and do what you can. As far as this law, well they have a reason for passing this law. After you read the stories about the corruption, you will understand.

Paul says:

Idiots in Tennessee

Are you kidding me? Let’s try and recall a little something we have called the FIRST AMENDMENT!

So what happens if a woman who can’t have children goes online and starts seeing lots of pictures of children that have been posted on their mom or dad’s facebook page, for grandma to see? I think that will be “emotionally distressing!”

LAWMAKERS = CONTROL FREAKS = IDIOTS!

Jake says:

WTF

THIS IS A BULLSHIT LAW

Wouldnt you agree that a law shouldnt be something based on opinion? How would you know your boundaries? This is the stupidest law I think I’ve come accross anx it just proves the stupidity and lack of common sense these political figures who approved it have.

Im going to go and post a big hairy veiny dick on some TN website now.

cara cohen says:

Article is Idiotic

This is an idiotic article written by someone absolutely unfamiliar with Constituional law. It has not been tried yet and if it is will be appealed out in a second. For instance as we all should know US Sup. Ct. has ruled Falwell v. Hustler hyperbole is an absolue excuse. You may make a joke.

Private persons are protected but, quasi private are NOT. As soon as your victim inserts himself by suing and it goes in the paper as do the public moving papers so is the person now a public person. Public persons are not protected from any damage.

Idiotic laws are slipped in all the time and are quashed. The writer of the article is an idiot who does not understand basic 1st Ammendment rights. Cough. McPherson. End of trial. Once things go through US Sup. Ct. there is no going back. Abortion will NEVER be reversed. Bush knew this while campagning. It is sad that basic law is not understood by the common American who at least you would think woulld be aware of common law.

Andrew says:

This is A big problem... an this is hindering my freedom

And here’s why.. number one i live in TN. and am appalled that my state, where i lived all my life, think they have the right to restrict me from being able to say and do as i please, not only hav they made it a law for me to pay money to things that shouldn’t be required for me to pay, but now they are saying that i cant do something on a public domain, if i post a picture to facebook, there’s something on there that if it offends someone then they can mark it as spam, and facebook will remove it. Here’s the solution, america needs to be reformed. and not according to legislature, but to what the people want… Neither america nor TN will restrict my freedoms. I AM FREE…BUT I, YET STILL, HAVE TO PAY THE TAXES THAT PAY THOSE FOOLS IN OFFICE. I WANT THEM TO PUT ME IN JAIL. CAUSE AMAZINGLY ENOUGH I AND ANYONE ELSE CAN TAKE THIS TO THE SUPREME COURT. THE INTERNET CANNOT BE CONTROLLED, IT WASNT CREATED BY THEM, ITS A PUBLIC DOMAIN. ANYTHING THAT I POST HAS NO WAY OF A RIGHT TO PLACE ME OR ANYONE ELSE IN JAIL. ITS AN IDIOTIC LAW, pretty soon its going to be OH youre walking down the street after curfew, youre going to jail. what a bunch of pricks.

Andrew says:

This is A big problem... an this is hindering my freedom

And here’s why.. number one i live in TN. and am appalled that my state, where i lived all my life, think they have the right to restrict me from being able to say and do as i please, not only hav they made it a law for me to pay money to things that shouldn’t be required for me to pay, but now they are saying that i cant do something on a public domain, if i post a picture to facebook, there’s something on there that if it offends someone then they can mark it as spam, and facebook will remove it. Here’s the solution, america needs to be reformed. and not according to legislature, but to what the people want… Neither america nor TN will restrict my freedoms. I AM FREE…BUT I, YET STILL, HAVE TO PAY THE TAXES THAT PAY THOSE FOOLS IN OFFICE. I WANT THEM TO PUT ME IN JAIL. CAUSE AMAZINGLY ENOUGH I AND ANYONE ELSE CAN TAKE THIS TO THE SUPREME COURT. THE INTERNET CANNOT BE CONTROLLED, IT WASNT CREATED BY THEM, ITS A PUBLIC DOMAIN. ANYTHING THAT I POST HAS NO WAY OF A RIGHT TO PLACE ME OR ANYONE ELSE IN JAIL. ITS AN IDIOTIC LAW, pretty soon its going to be OH youre walking down the street after curfew, youre going to jail. what a bunch of pricks.

joe says:

most horribly worded law ever??

lots of things cause emotional distress to lots of people

when i was 20 and moved in with my 19 year old girlfriend, her parents were BEYOND emotionally distressed – should i go to jail because i upset them?

if i draw a cartoon of muhammed wearing a bomb turban…
if i post a photoshopped picture of jesus at a gay parade dressed up like an s & m dude…
if i post a picture of a homophobe photoshopped to be wearing an evening gown and makeup…

how is it that politicians can be so simple minded as to not imagine that these things should not be illegal??? idiots

Distressed says:

Tennessee Web Sites

I’m sure with all of the government websites in Tennessee, there will be plenty that have posted a picture that causes me distress… I’m so pleased to know that I, and all of my fellow internet users (yes, Tennessee – there are more than 20 of us) can now sue the state and make them pay for harming me.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...