Tenn. bans posting images that "cause emotional distress"

The state of Tennessee is leading the charge to turn America into a fascist police state. They’re using “emotional distress” as an excuse to strip their citizens of their First Amendment rights.

According to Ars Technica, a new Tennessee law makes it illegal to “transmit or display an image” online that is likely to “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” to someone who sees it. If you violate this law, Tennessee could give you almost a year in jail or up to $2500 in fines.


The Tennessee legislature has been busy little bees, updating their laws for the Internet age. And they’ve showed that they view their citizens with utter contempt in the process. Last week we reported on a bill that updated Tennessee’s theft-of-service laws and made sharing logins to “subscription entertainment services” like Netflix, illegal.


The embargo on distressing images, which was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam last week, is also an update to existing law. In Tennessee it’s already illegal to make phone calls, send emails, or otherwise communicate openly with someone in a manner the sender “reasonably should know” would “cause emotional distress” to the recipient. If the communication lacked a “legitimate purpose,” the sender faces jail time.


The new law adds images to the list of communications that that the Volunteer State can throw you in the slammer for, involuntarily of course.

However, for image postings, the “emotionally distressed” individual doesn’t even have to be the intended receiver. Anyone who views the image is a potential victim. If a court thinks you “should have known” that an image you posted would be upsetting to somebody who sees it, you can face months in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

You might think that it sounds unconstitutional, and you aren’t the only one. In a blog post, constitutional scholar Eugene Volokh highlights just how broad the legislation is. The law doesn’t require that the picture be of the “victim,” and the government doesn’t need to prove that you meant for the image to be distressing.

Volokh says 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,” causing liability. He says the bill is “pretty clearly unconstitutional.”

Another part of the legislation governs law enforcement access to the contents of communications on social networking sites. The government can get access to “images or communications” posted to a social networking site by offering “specific and articulable facts,” signifying that the information sought is “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”  

So that’s the state of affairs in Tennessee. Their government thinks that it’s ok to take away everyone’s rights just to protect the public’s sensitive emotions. They are locking down the Internet in Tennessee and I sure hope that the people resist this authoritarian law.

The scary thing is that the law passed easily, and it’s not a stretch to think that other states will draft up similar versions of their own. Authoritarianism is nothing new in the south, but this new law has really cranked up the police state factor. The Internet is dying in Tennessee and I think I might care more about it than they do. Let’s hope not.