“Sexting”: Is it public or private communication?

This will be a short post. I am not a legal expert, my field is communications. But the recent legal action being taken against some teenage girls, and the legal process which is moving forward in connection with the cases in question, may ultimately have an impact on the matter of what constitutes public vs. private communication in this new communications age. The facts  are these: In New Jersey, a 14 year old girl has been accused of child pornography after posting explicit nude pictures of herself on MySpace.com; the girl supposedly posted the photos because she wanted her boyfriend to see them. In northeastern Pennsylvania, a prosecutor recently threatened to file child pornography charges against three teenage girls who are said to have taken sexually suggestive cellphone pictures of themselves which showed up on their classmates’ cellphones.  “Sexting” by the way is the term used for such activity when done by cellphone.

Technology has in some ways made the “wall” between what is public and what is private much more porous, it’s more like a curtain now, waving in the breeze. But technology isn’t the culprit here, perhaps it’s more a facilitator. Years ago, long before my time, when the telephone was really still in its infancy, there were party lines, shared by a number of subscribers, such that one’s conversation could be overheard by others, who “inadvertently” might listen in. There is some comparability between today and yesterday in this.

The cases noted probably don’t hinge at all on the public/private issue, but rather matters pertaining to legal definitions of “knowingly” committing a crime, and the minor status of the “perpetrators”.

On Monday, a federal judge blocked the prosecutor in the Pennsylvania case I have cited from filing charges against the girls involved. The American Civil Liberties Union sought the temporary restraining order on behalf of the girls. The prosecutor said he would consider seeking an appeal. This case and others like it should be followed closely; these  legal uncharted waters may have ramifications, including first amendment ramifications,  for us all.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/31/sexting-is-it-public-or-private-communication/

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