Going “viral” or reaching a certain number of likes or shares seems to be a status symbol for many of today’s teens, but an Illinois lawmaker believes this craze may have some intended consequences. With that in mind, Illinois Representative Terry Bryant has submitted a proposal that would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly record a crime and to upload it to the internet.
The full proposal reads:
“[The proposal] Provides that it is also disorderly conduct to knowingly upload a video of a crime being committed, a gang-related fight, a battery committed with the intent to cause a person to be made unconscious, or other display of violence to a social media website or social networking website with the intent to promote or condone that activity or refuse to provide a law enforcement agency or peace officer with that uploaded video upon request of that agency or officer. Provides that a violation is a Class A misdemeanor”
Viral Video Law
There’s a lot to decipher about the law, so let’s take it piece by piece. As an attorney, it’s the last clause that draws the most attention. It will be interesting to see how the phrase “with the intent to promote or condone that activity” is interpreted by a judge or jury. People post videos on the internet of fights or altercations all the time, but that doesn’t mean they agree or condone everything that goes on in the video.
As Representative Bryant said when interviewed about the proposal, she hopes the law will spur bystanders to help a victim during an altercation. For example, instead of sitting back and recording a fight between two students in the lunchroom, Bryant hopes that the threat of legal action will push bystanders to intervene and try to deescalate the situation. The proposal comes on the heels of the death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert, who was beaten to death in 2009 while bystanders stood around and filmed the fight. Bryant believes the law will push people to intervene before it’s too late.
It’s a worthy cause, but it also may have some unintended consequences. Imagine the scenario where a student tries to break up a fight and is hurt or killed because they tried to intervene. Also, video evidence is often the most reliable form of evidence, especially in he said-she said arguments or for determining who escalated the situation.
It will be interesting to see if Representative Bryant amends her proposal amid criticism, as it will almost assuredly earn some negative press, especially among First Amendment rights advocates. A similar bill that would fine people $100 for taking photos or videos of fights and posting them online was recently proposed in Kentucky, but the proposal was withdrawn shortly thereafter over concerns about First Amendment infringements.
The idea certainly has merit, and the underlying principle that deescalating a situation is preferred to passively standing by, but punishing people for capturing evidence and sharing it on a personal page may be a bit of a stretch. We’re interested to see how this plays out.