Assemblywoman Buttenschon and Senator Griffo: Social Media Users Who Disseminate Images of Crime Victims Must Face Consequences

Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon (D-Utica/Rome) and Sen. Joseph Griffo (R,I,C-Rome) have introduced legislation to create criminal and civil penalties for unlawfully disseminating a personal image of the victim(s) of a crime with the intent to glorify the violent actions committed against the victim or to humiliate, demean, degrade or abuse the victim(s) or their families (A.11093/S.9090). Buttenschon and Griffo worked to create the legislation following the tragic murder of Bianca Devins in 2019.

“Bianca Devins’ life was cut short in an act of senseless, horrific violence,” said Buttenschon. “Bianca was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. She deserves much more than to have her death exploited by detestable social media users for likes and follows, and her family deserves peace. While this legislation was created with Devins in mind, it’s designed to hold any individuals who share these images accountable. We need to make it clear that spreading images to glorify violent offenses or cause trauma to victims and family members will not be tolerated. These images have no place on the Internet or social media sites and individuals who share gruesome images with such intentions should face consequences for the trauma they cause.”

“It is disturbing, appalling and unacceptable that some individuals choose to glorify violent actions and disseminate gruesome images of crimes online. Those who decide to circulate such pictures should face consequences for their heinous actions. The family and friends of Bianca Devins, as well as so many other victims of unspeakable crimes, have already suffered so much heartbreak, grief and pain. They should not have to continue to relive such horrendous experiences through various mediums that have been exploited by others.” Griffo said.

In 2019, 17-year-old Bianca Devins, of Utica, was murdered after attending a concert with her attacker, who then posted photos of her body on social media. These photos were widely shared across multiple social media platforms.  Devins’ family was made aware of her death after they received the photos through messages on their own social media accounts and have been harassed by the images since Bianca’s death. There have also been accounts on platforms like YouTube and Twitter dedicated to analyzing the crime that have promised to share the photos of Devins’ death in exchange for shares or likes.

Buttenschon and Griffo’s legislation would establish the crimes of unlawful dissemination of a personal image in the first, second and third degree, and create a right of private action against such offenses. This legislation would not apply to: the reporting of unlawful conduct; the sharing of images made during lawful and common practices of law enforcement, legal proceedings or medical treatment; the sharing of images involving activities in a public or commercial setting where legal activities are being conducted; or to the sharing of images shared which are made for a legitimate public purpose. Victims of harassment on social media and their families face unspeakable trauma and need to know that there are steps they can take to pursue justice beyond suspending a social media account, the legislators noted.