Legislator Wants To Ban People From Posting Pictures Of Accidents To Social Media… For At Least One Hour

from the dumb-idea-with-implausible-logistics dept

Kentucky legislator John “Bam” Carney thinks social media might be getting a bit out of hand. His response? Prior Restraint: The Legislation. (via Slashdot)

A bill assigned to the House Judiciary Committee would prohibit anyone who witnesses “an event that could reasonably result in a serious physical injury” from publishing information about that event on the Internet for at least an hour if their posting could identify potential victims.

Violators could be fined $20 to $100 per incident. Exceptions are made for the news media, victims of the event and emergency responders at the event.

See how many problems you can find in that two-sentence summary.

Would posting video of a football game to Facebook violate this law? (“An event that could reasonably result in a serious physical injury.”) How about a traffic stop? (Risk for physical injury again, obviously.) For that matter, is the law only violated IF a “serious physical injury” occurs or just when it could be the potential end result? Example: an automobile accident looks horrendous but everyone involved suffers only cuts and bruises. Does this fall on the right side of Carney’s proposal?

And that’s before you get to the costs involved in tracking down a person who posted the illicit footage to hit them up for $20-100. If nothing else, a guaranteed money-loser like this should be tossed on P&L merits alone.

The “one hour” blackout also poses a problem. Who determines when the countdown starts? Those issuing the tickets? The EMS crew (if any)? The victims (if any)? An official clock located at Carney’s office?

On top of that, there’s the always sticky question about who is or isn’t “media,” as well as the attendant First Amendment issue that even “Bam” recognizes is a problem (but that somehow hasn’t prevented him from offering up the bill in the first place).

Of course, Carney has his reasons for crafting (a very generous depiction of the effort involved) this bill. Apparently, this isn’t a stupid piece of legislation. It’s actually an icebreaker.

“It’s purely my intent to get a discussion going out there, asking people to be more respectful about what they put on social media,” Carney said.

That’s a hell of a way to have a “discussion:” tell someone to shut up and take money out of their wallet if they don’t.

The second half of his statement explains the copious amounts of “do something” dripping off his single-sheet proposal.

“We’ve had some incidents, including one in my community, and I’d hate for anyone to learn about the loss of a loved one through social media.”

Something happened to a neighbor or, more likely, a powerful constituent, who gave Carney an earful about today’s social media being nothing more than 24-hour tabloid TV staffed by youthful miscreants waving around iThings. Pure speculation, but I’d be surprised if it’s not in the same neighborhood as the truth.

Something happened.

People said something should be done.

“Bam” Carney will do something.

And here it is: SOMETHING.

(1) Any individual who witnesses an event that could reasonably result in a serious physical injury as defined in KRS 500.080 shall not post any information identifying the potential victims on the Internet or other electronic media until at least one (1) hour has passed from the moment the event was first witnessed.

(2) This section shall not apply to: (a) The injured individual; (b) Any member of the news media; or (c) Any emergency responder responding to the event.

(3) Any individual who violates this section shall be fined not less than twenty dollars ($20) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100) for each offense.


And, finally, one last voice offering clueless support of a bad bill — this one belonging to another government employee: Tiger Robinson, Pulaski County Public Safety Director.

“There have been times we’ve been pulling bodies out of cars and these people are standing there, snapping pictures on their phones to post on Facebook. It’s just not right.”

Maybe so. But attempting to herd people towards a subjective level of decency can rarely be accomplished without trampling on a few civil liberties. Carney’s trying to nudge the public towards his and Robinson’s public decorum ideal, and if a little prior restraint is what’s needed to achieve this goal, a little prior restraint is what the public will get.

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Comments on “Legislator Wants To Ban People From Posting Pictures Of Accidents To Social Media… For At Least One Hour”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I’ve been wondering what the event that drove this was…
Seems to be the most likely candidate.

Of course there was followup to it…

Perhaps if images weren’t posted so quickly they could have come up with a better story and avoid fines.

This is political pandering at its finest. This law will never survive, but I put time into that instead of doing anything that might improve life for my constituents. I will get 1000’s of likes because everyone likes the idea of not showing horror to the world until the proper people are notified first, so what if this managed to pass and they’d end up paying the bill for the legal fight over it…

It would be nice if there was more time spend on the job making things better than trying to grab the next cool soundbite and stay in the media churn.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I do understand some of the motivation behind it. A girl commited suicide by hanging herself on a tree recently and I happen to know the family. Her sister was very shocked and did not see the bloated corpse, it was exposed for a few days before people found the body. However, one (or more) of the police officers involved in the investigation took pictures and got them in the wild. Some idiot decided it would be nice to send said sisters those picture and she went completely nuts. It’s been over an year now and you can still see she is severely emotionally scarred.

I’m not supporting the law, it’s a complete idiocy. But it seems to me you can’t rely on people common sense. It seems to be severely scarce nowadays.

Chris Brand says:

emergency responders

Why, exactly, does it make sense that it doesn’t apply to “Any emergency responder responding to the event” ? Don’t they have more important stuff to be doing than posting pictures to facebook ?
I guess the next words from Tiger Robinson were something like “Posting the pictures to facebook is our job” ?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: emergency responders

They can’t ID the unconscious victim and feel they might need to find family ASAP to find out about some medical issue before he hits the ER? Police believe the crash was caused deliberately or in the commission of another crime, and they don’t want to wait an hour before appealing for witnesses? Those are the first two that pop into my head.

Anonymous Coward says:

Prior restraint

First of all, let me agree that the proposed legislation is a content-based regulation of speech and necessarily requires strict scrutiny. (And “strict scrutiny”, in practice, usually proves to be fatal scrutiny.)

But is it really a prior restraint?

I am afraid that “prior restraint”, for me, is kinda one of those “I know it when I see it” things. Generally, I have some go-to cases that illustrate prior restraints, and I compare the situation with them to see to how it stacks up.

So, Alexander v United States (1993) is, I believe, noteworthy as a fairly recent and relatively lucid explanation of the doctrine.

The term “prior restraint” is used “to describe administrative and judicial orders forbidding certain communications when issued in advance of the time that such communications are to occur.”

Alexander also cites to a number of cases, many of which are fairly noteworthy themselves. But let me skip over them, to go back to Near v Minnesota (1931), where Chief Justice Hughes quoted Blackstone:

“The liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state; but this consists in laying no previous restraints upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for criminal matter when published. Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public; to forbid this, is to destroy the freedom of the press; but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous or illegal, he must take the consequence of his own temerity.”

Blackstone, an Englishman, held a conservative view of the liberty of the press, and in America, we have both today and historically held broader views of that liberty. But what was Blackstone referring to?

An Act for Preventing the Frequent Abuses in Printing Seditious Treasonable and Unlicensed Books and Pamphlets and for Regulating Printing and Printing Presses 14 Car.II, c.33 (1662)

That 1662 statute is a prior restraint.

So how does the statute under consideration stack up against the 1662 prior restraint? Does the proposed statute really amount to a state censorship regime?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Prior restraint

What’s ‘publishing on the internet’, though? Not necessarily just in the eyes of the law, but as a more abstract question.

Is sending an email to my spouse about the accident considered publishing? What if I CC the email to ten people in my address book? A hundred? What about a Facebook-like service: does it make a difference if I post the info under ‘public’ versus ‘friends only’? Gets a bit weird…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Prior restraint

I’d recommend looking at more recent rulings on prior restraint to see the case history. Relying on a statute from before the U.S. was a country seems like you’re inviting misunderstanding.

That said, the internet didn’t exist in 1662. For the purposes of this proposed law, the 1662 version would be restraining people from walking around town yelling that there’d been an accident. That seems like it definitely would be prior restraint.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Prior restraint

Relying on a statute from before the U.S. was a country seems like you’re inviting misunderstanding.

Let me quote from the constitution of my current state:

A frequent recurrence to fundamental principles is essential to the security of individual right and the perpetuity of free government.

That provision echoes earlier sentiments expressed in the constitutions of Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among other states, and traces back to the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights drafted by George Mason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Disingenuous disapproval

Apparently, this isn’t a stupid piece of legislation. It’s actually an icebreaker.

“It’s purely my intent to get a discussion going out there, asking people to be more respectful about what they put on social media,” Carney said.

That’s a hell of a way to have a “discussion:” tell someone to shut up and take money out of their wallet if they don’t.

Assume that “Bam” Carney has been a legislator for a little while. Say, 6 years. A posteriori, he might know that this proposal is blocked by legal precedent so well established that it has made it into popular culture. Therefore, the conclusion to draw is that the icebreaker isn’t a fine or threat of a fine. Nor is it an enacted law. It is the proposed law, that has less chance of being enacted than Obama has of a third term as president.

And hey, it worked. You’re talking about it. Ice: broken.

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem with the proposed law is that it can go the other way. Someone posting about an accident within an hour of it occurring that a loved one may discover might allow that person to go to the scene of the accident and see and speak to their loved one before they die, whereas a media blackout for that hour might occur when people on the scene aren’t able to contact a loved one and they don’t get that chance. Also, what if the loved one knows how to save the person’s life (i.e. knows of an existing condition or a need for a particular medication) and the EMTs on the scene would have tried five different things before losing the patient when the 6th thing might have been what would have saved them.

The point is, you don’t know what can happen, so a law like this is useless without prescience. And if Carney had an prescience, he wouldn’t have propose the law because he’d know it was useless to do so, even to start a conversation.

Anonymous Coward says:

“don’t expect bill to pass. Just trying to help others to consider families of victims in a time of tragedy” – Bam Carney, on Twitter.

Well, it’s not actually unconstitutional to *propose* an unconstitutional bill and not pass it… but I still don’t think crafting such a bill is appropriate. Hold a press conference if you want. Tweet your outrage. Pass a resolution declaring that you don’t like it. But don’t start a process that could result in an unconstitutional law.

Anonymous Coward says:

The law is self-defeating

“Violators could be fined $20 to $100 per incident. Exceptions are made for the news media, victims of the event and emergency responders at the event.”
Anyone close enough to record the event must also be witnesses. And witnesses too, are victims, because they still experienced the trauma of seeing what happened.

So really, anyone can post whatever they like… The only thing is could possibly restrict is reposting. Which is irrelevant.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What is media? [was ]

So who gets to define what “media’ is…

Perhaps Mr Chief Justice Hughes should be permitted to weigh in again? This time in his own words, in a case concerning pamphlets.

Lovell v City of Griffin (1938)

The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. These indeed have been historic weapons in the defense of liberty, as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine and others in our own history abundantly attest. The press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.

Compare that with the licensing act of 1662:

And be it further ordained and enacted by the Authority aforesaid That no private person or persons whatsoever shall att any time hereafter print or cause to be printed any Booke or Pamphlet whatsoever unlesse the same Booke and Pamphlet togeather with all and every the Titles Epistles Prefaces Proems Preambles Introductions Tables Dedications and other matters and things thereunto annexed be first entred in the Booke of the Register of the Company of Stationers of London except Acts of Parliament Proclamations and such other Books and Papers as shall be appointed to be printed by vertue of any Warrant under the Kings Majesties Sign Manual or under the Hand of one or both of His Majesties Principal Secretaries of State . . .

And this 1662 requirement for entry in the Register of the Company of Stationers may be traced back to 1586, “The newe Decrees of the Starre Chamber for Orders in Printinge”.

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