Republican Rep. Terri Bryant of Murphysboro is drawing opponents to her attempt to criminalize filming and posting fight videos to social media.
Bryant submitted the bill after she saw video of a brutal school fight circulating on Facebook — something that has been increasingly common with the growth of social media.
Bryant’s bill would make it a misdemeanor to post fight videos online with intent to condone or promote violence. However, the representative’s attempt to crack down on such behaviour has drawn some opposition.
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Ed Yohnka Communication of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois says Bryant’s proposal violates the First Amendment, and great care and precision need to be exercised when legislating issues that may infringe on constitutional rights.
Yohnka said Bryant’s bill includes vague language that could be used used to prosecute people who are engaging in activity, such as filming events in public, that are protected by the First Amendment.
Despite all 50 states having anti-bullying laws, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, only half of those laws address cyber-bullying. Illinois does have an anti-cyberbullying law.
Yohnka said the challenge with the proposed bill is that technology has made it difficult for lawmakers to determine what kind of behavior should be labeled as criminal. And to further complicate things, it would also be difficult to prove a poster's intent.
“I think one of the problems here is that Rep. Bryant’s bill doesn’t really take into account that words like condone or promote are vague and that those things — the vagueness of that language can be used to prosecute people who are engaging in protected First Amendment activity,” Yohnka said.
In addition, the argument could be made that filming a fight is preserving evidence and publicizing wrongdoing.
The proposed bill, HB 4419, has been referred to the House Rules Committee.