Offended by a web image – that's a hanging in Tennessee

If a Tennessee citizen sees an image of something they don’t like, they can call the cops who can jail the website owner for a year.

A new Tennessee law makes it illegal to “transmit or display an image” that is likely to “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” to someone who sees it.

The law change is part of an update of laws for the internet age. However this one might cause more problems than it fixes.

According to Ars Technica  it is designed to stop people from posting snaps which put the frighteners on people. A stalker who posts pictures of his victim on his blog would get done for it.

However it could also be interpreted in a less wholesome way. If TechEye finds and posts a diagram which proves that God did not create the world in seven days and some born again Christian is shocked, then they could call in the rozzers.

Just as well I live in a more civilised country where the priests are treated with faint amusement rather than taken literally, by anyone other than the very old.

The ban on distressing images, which was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam last week, is also an update to another daftly worded law.

In Tennessee it was a crime to make phone calls, send emails, or otherwise communicate with someone in a manner the sender “reasonably should know” would “cause emotional distress”. If the communciation lacked a “legitimate purpose,” the sender faced jail time. That would rule out most American television which seems to lack any purpose other than to glorify doctors and hospital staff.

What is scary about the new rules is that the “emotionally distressed” individual need not be the intended target.

Anyone who sees the image is the victim. So you could be thick skinned about an image posted online, but if a neighbour is deeply shocked, he or she can complain to the coppers.

We don’t think the law, however well intentioned, has legs in the US.

As it is worded, pictures of Mohammed, or blasphemous jokes about Jesus Christ, or harsh cartoon insults could get a person banged up, which is the opposite of what is intended by the US Constitution.