Nic Scissons thought he was being funny. He was just being 17. “What happened to the old Lenore?”, the Truro high school student tweeted to his 629 followers in late November, uncleverly linking his post to a 2008 photo of a nude scene from The L-Word featuring hometown actress-turned-MLA Lenore Zann.
Zann tweeted back, demanding he remove the image. Scissons refused. There followed a heated exchange — “Distribution of this image falls under the Criminal code,” Zann tweeted at one point. “It has been reported” — eventually involving other tweeters and ending with Zann asking local police and the province’s CyberSCAN Unit to look into what she called “cyberbullying.”
The five-investigator CyberSCAN unit set up under the province’s new Cyber-Safety Act polices electronic communication “intended or ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person’s health, emotional well-being, self esteem or reputation.”
Escalating the episode to a case of cyberbullying inevitably took the tweet global.
“Here’s the Naked Photo this Politician Really Doesn’t Want You to See,” trumpeted a story on the aptly named Gawker website. The London Daily Mail weighed in too, as did the New York Daily News, featuring the photo but pixelating the naughty bits.
Zann’s complaint also prompted a local tweeter to counter-argue: “Could Lenore Zann be harassing a HS student for tweeting these pornographic images of her?.” Perhaps all too predictably, his post also earned him a cease-and-desist call from the cyber police.
Is this really what our new law — passed in the wake of the tragic Rehteah Parsons suicide — is supposed to prevent? A teenaged boy using an easily publicly accessible image to poke unfunny fun at a prominent local politician? A don’t-get-out-much commentator expressing his opinion about nudity and pornography.
Cyberbullying expert Wayne MacKay argues the law is less about intent and more about “the impact on the victim.” But the legislation, counters freedom of speech expert David Fraser, is an “unreasonable repression of protected speech.” He believes the hastily drafted law, designed to help cyberbullying’s real victims will “ultimately… be found unconstitutional.”
For now, however, all ends well. Scissons has taken down his tweet, Zann has taken herself off Twitter and the police say no crime was committed.
As you were. Happy Holidays.
This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber’s Halifax Metro column