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Author: Tan KW   |   Latest post: Tue, 23 Apr 2019, 6:44 PM


Bumble backs US bill aimed at fighting digital sexual harassment

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Austin-based Bumble, the dating app maker, is backing a Texas bill that would criminalise the sending of unsolicited nude or sexual photos. 
Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, filed House Bill 2789, which would make it a Class C misdemeanour – punishable by a fine up to US$500 – to send a lewd photo without the consent of the recipient. The bill includes content sent via text message, social media or online dating applications. 
While Meyer said the behaviour has become an issue among teenagers and young adults, legal experts said that his bill is likely to face challenges from freedom of speech advocates over its scope and legal precedent. 
"Time and time again we hear stories of this sort of harassment, and it's time for a solution," Meyer said in a news release. "Sending a lewd photo to someone that has not requested it or someone you don't know is no different than exposing yourself to a stranger in public or performing other lewd acts." 
Bumble executives worked with Meyer to file the bill. The measure aligns with Bumble's mission of combating so-called cyberflashing. Input from companies like Bumble highlighted the growing problem of aggressive and unsolicited sexual communication online, according to Meyer. 
Bumble, the popular female-focused dating app, already bans shirtless selfies, misogynistic language, nudity, guns and drugs in photos on its app. The company has made women its focus since debuting in 2014 as a dating app that lets women interact only with the men they message first. 
"What is illegal in the real world must be illegal in the digital world, and this legislation is a first step in the right direction in adding that accountability," Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd said in a statement recently. "We are so grateful to (Meyer) for his willingness to take on this important issue, and we're excited to be partnering with him and working with our state lawmakers to create much-needed change for future generations." 
Regardless of the bill's intent, however, its current language could be too sweeping, said J.T. Morris, an Austin-based lawyer who specializes in First Amendment rights. 
"This bill looks to be significantly overbroad because it looks to criminalise the sending of information that could have legitimate purposes," Morris said. "This has some real First Amendment concerns." 
That could include, he said, pictures women post on social media of breastfeeding, or sending a photo for medical purposes. 
Even if it is amended, the bill is likely to face legal challenges if it becomes law, Morris said. 
Last April, a Texas appeals court struck down a 2015 state law that also dealt with illicit material. The law made it illegal to post a previous partner's nude or semi-nude photo to the Internet without that partner's permission. Like with HB 2789, challengers of the law say its broad language infringes on free speech. 
After the appeals court's decision, the state's highest criminal court agreed in July to take up the case. A ruling is pending. 
"There's no legitimate constitutional way to forbid this speech, even though it's something that people shouldn't engage in," said Mark Bennett, a criminal defence lawyer in Houston whose practice partly focuses on sexual-related crimes. "If this gets passed, I don't think it's going to survive a constitutional challenge." 
Free speech rights tend to be closely protected by courts, Bennett said. Even in cases that involve public displays of indecency, he said, malicious or sexual intent typically has to be proved for cases to move forward.
 - Austin American-Statesman/Tribune News Service 
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