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Posted on 06.10.2011

New Law Pertaining to Photos Shared on Social Networks Worth Noting

If you share photos on social networks, a new Tennessee law is worth noting; particularly by those who may occasionally have a thoughtless moment, or worse, a wicked mean streak! It amends an important section of state law that deals with harassment as a criminal offense in a manner that, as local columnist Brantley Hargrove notes, is troublingly broad and vague when examined closely. Communications and Marketing Blog PhotoThe intent of this amendment to the law is undoubtedly to acknowledge the growing role of social media in our lives and to extend the protections against harassment that pertain to other types of communication to photographs and videos. It broadens Tennessee’s harassment law to include transmitting or displaying an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation the image may be viewed by the “victim,” but here’s where it gets broad and vague.  Among the acts that can legally constitute harassment is any communication, and now image, that causes the person to be emotionally distressed. It would be hard to argue the victims of criminal harassment should not be protected from having their image transmitted or displayed by their harassers, but to Hargrove’s point, if someone posts an unflattering photo of me when they know it will cause me distress, and they post it where I’m likely to see it – on Facebook, for example – have they committed a crime?  I suppose it depends on whether I attempt to press charges, but I’m sure you can see the issue here.  A law that can be interpreted this broadly does give one pause and, as the Nashville Business Journal reports, some constitutional scholars are already crying foul because of the law’s First Amendment implications. Following the possible ramifications of this new law to their furthest extremes leads to a simple conclusion and familiar refrain that can’t be repeated too often: Think before you post. Be thoughtful and respectful. Don’t use social media thoughtlessly and, certainly, never to strike out at others. It’s also a good civics lesson in the difference between “legislative intent” and the substance of our laws themselves as they often make it on the books. A recent post by Lovell’s Robin Embry explores Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s desire to attract kids under the age of 13 as members. It’s certainly not hard to imagine adolescents using social networks irresponsibly, as evidenced by the known prevalence of cyber bullying. Obviously, the ongoing debate surrounding the use and evolution of social media is an incredibly important one, so please share your thoughts with us on these issues or other social media matters.  

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