John Oliver Makes Pitch for Federal Law Banning “Revenge Porn” [Interview/Background]

It was with special interest that I watched last night’s segment of the John Oliver show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” In the middle of last week, I received a call from one of the show’s researchers, and had an interesting discussion about various state and federal laws that might apply to revenge porn, as well as the First Amendment implications if Congress actually moves forward with legislation. Here’s the final product:

As Oliver details in his typically hilarious and sobering fashion, a bill called the “Intimate Privacy Protection Act” is currently being drafted that would make the distribution of “revenge porn” a federal crime. The legislation is being drafted by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and will reportedly be introduced in Congress at some point in the coming weeks. It would provide “revenge porn” victims with a better alternative than seeking copyright protection for images of their bodies in order to get them removed from adult Web sites.

Not long after Oliver’s piece aired, Rep. Speier updated her Facebook page to praise his attention to the issue:

[fb_embed_post href=”https://www.facebook.com/JackieSpeier/posts/10153152466516977/” width=”550″/]

The prospects for Rep. Speier’s bill are uncertain; proposed statutory restrictions on speech always face an uphill battle, first in Congress and then in the courts. Despite the fact that I am within shouting distance of being a First Amendment absolutist, I think this legislation could be useful (although I look forward to reading the actual language when it is introduced).

I believe that the First Amendment is intended primarily to ensure the protection of the dissemination of original ideas, particular with respect to politics and other matters of public import. I think that there is relatively little free speech value in protecting the distribution of other people’s ideas (i.e., copyright infringement), the unnecessary sparking of panic (falsely shouting “Fire!!” in a crowded theater), or the unauthorized sharing of intimate images. Such utterances barely qualify as speech in the first place and certainly do not add to public discourse in any meaningful way.

Fortunately, at least with respect to “revenge porn” (or as University of Miami School of Law professor Mary Ann Franks prefers to describe it, “nonconsensual pornography“), several of the Internet’s major communication channels are joining the fight. Over the course of the last several months, several of the Web’s biggest players — Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and most recently, Google — have all announced steps to combat this abusive conduct.

All of these are positive steps, but more is needed. “Nonconsensual pornography” is a profound invasion of privacy, one that should be treated as a criminal act. By federalizing this issue, Congress can take a clear and positive step towards reducing the horrible misogyny that plagues the Internet.

Share this!

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published.