That’s what a Pennsylvania bill, unanimously passed last Fall by the state Senate and referred to the House — titled “cyberbullying by minors” — would provide:
A minor [i.e., an under-18-year-old] commits a misdemeanor of the third degree if:
(1) the minor knowingly transmits or disseminates any electronic communication, including a visual depiction of himself or any other person in a state of nudity, to another minor with the knowledge or intent that the communication would coerce, intimidate, torment, harass or otherwise cause emotional distress to the other minor; or
(2) the minor does any of the following involving another minor:
(i) photographs, videotapes, depicts on a computer or films the other minor in a state of nudity without the person’s knowledge or consent; or
(ii) transmits, distributes, publishes or disseminates a visual depiction of the other minor in a state of nudity where the minor depicted has not given consent or has withdrawn consent for the dissemination....
(c) Definitions.... “Disseminate.” To cause or make an electronic communication from one person, place or electronic communication device to two or more persons, places or electronic communication devices.
“Electronic Communication.” Any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic or photo-optical system, except ... [a]ny wire or oral communication....
“Transmit.” To cause or make an electronic communication from one person, place or electronic communication device to only one other person, place or electronic communication device....
Part of the provision is a narrow ban on nonconsensual dissemination of images of nudity (or, oddly enough, of clothed images if they depict an erection). But that’s just “includ[ed].” The bill, which after all seems to be aimed at “cyberbullying” and not just sexting, would more generally ban either e-mailing (transmitting) or posting on a blog or a Facebook page or some such (disseminating)
any electronic communication ... to another minor with the knowledge or intent that the communication would ... cause emotional distress to the other minor.
Literally, that would prohibit:
- an e-mail saying, “I’m sorry, but I have to break up with you,” since the sender likely knows that it will cause emotional distress to the recipient,
- a Web page posting that faults one’s ex-lover for cheating on the poster or abusing the poster, if one knows that the ex will read that page (since that’s dissemination to the ex that likely emotionally distresses the ex, because he’ll know that he’s being publicly condemned),
- a minor’s posting something that condemns another minor for a crime or for racism or for opposition to homosexuality (or for homosexuality), if one knows that the other minor will read it,
- a minor’s posting something that’s allegedly blasphemous or otherwise ideologically distressing to his Web page, if he knows some other minors will read it and be emotionally distressed by it,
- and much more.
How can this possibly make sense?