The TN Legislature recently passed a law, sure to effect many Chattanooga residents, which expands the Class A misdemeanor of Harassment to include posts on Social Networking sites. The law provides that harassment includes:
"Any display of an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation that it will be viewed by the victim by telephone, in writing or by electronic communication, without legitimate purpose and:
1) With malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress; or
2) In a manner the Defendant knows, or reasonably should know, would frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities; and
3) As a result of the communication, the person is frightened, intimidated or emotionally distressed."
A violation of this law will carry a sentence of up to 30 hours of community service or a fine of $100.00.
The intention behind the law is to prevent cyberbullying among children and teenagers. The law focuses much of its attention on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter where users are able to post pictures and comments on other users' walls with little restrictions.
In an effort to clarify the scope of the rule, Senator Bill Ketron states "The images must be targeted at a specific person. If you randomly stumble upon something online that was offensive, this law would not apply."
Many critics of the law feel that it is overly broad, creating a "slippery slope" when it comes to deciding what constitutes harassment and what doesn't. On its face it is hard to determine if the law applies only to minors or if it applies to adults as well. Many also feel that this new legislation will open a "pandora's box" with respect to control over the type of material that can be posted on the Internet.
TN cyberbullying law draws ridicule
The law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2011.