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Illinois Lawmaker Moves to Criminalize Posting Fight Videos

Page views translate into dollar signs for advertisers, nowadays.

And a growing Internet phenomenon capturing lots of clicks, is amateur fight videos. These are real fights, usually captured on cell phones --  then posted to online.

A YouTube video of a fight at a boy’s Chicago Public League high school basketball game last year has been viewed more than a quarter of a million times.

An Illinois lawmaker is trying to make it illegal to post videos like it, for the sake of entertainment.

Rep. Terri Bryant’s bill would make it so that adults caught filming, and sharing, these types of videos would be slapped with a disorderly conduct misdemeanor.

Bryant says her intent is to look out for the victims.

“Imagine you’re the person on the ground, being beaten up, and soon find out that someone is recording that so they can get their 30 seconds of fame on some social media site. That’s a problem,” Bryant said.

The Murphysboro Republican said she was prompted to act after seeing a video on Facebook of a middle school boy from her hometown beating up on another kid, as he lay on the ground. She said while the law would only apply to individuals over the age of 18, she hopes it could teach children a lesson.

“When we wonder why our kids are doing certain things,” Bryant explained, “a lot of times they are mirroring what culture is saying is okay because adults are doing it.”

Michael Curtis, a professor of law enforcement and justice administration at Western Illinois University, said he thinks the Bryant’s heart is in the right place, but getting the bill passed will be difficult.

Curtis said two challenging legal hurdles stand in its way: First, the bill infringes upon the basic constitutional right to freedom of speech; second, determining the purpose behind filming a violent act is very hard to accomplish.

“There is a potential that students, especially young students, can video these [fights] with the purpose of putting them on social media to humiliate or intimidate or bully an individual,” Curtis explained. “But I also see an evidentiary value to it as well.”

He said that even though someone may post a fight to social media because they think it’s entertaining, it can also be used to solve crimes.

“Maybe I post it on YouTube not knowing the parties involved but somebody comes forward and says, ‘Hey I know these parties involved and not only that but I know the perpetrator of the offense.’ Do we really want to limit that application?” said Curtis.

That video of the fight at the Chicago boys basketball game last year did result in consequences. After video of the brawl between players and spectators from North Lawndale High School and Marshall High School was posted, the Chicago Tribune reported that both teams were suspended for three games.

The Illinois High School Association investigated the fight, interviewing players and coaches. It issued a statement supporting Chicago Public Schools’ decision to suspend both teams -- which meant that the winner of that game, North Lawndale, had to forfeit the Sectional Final, and its opportunity to play for a state championship.

Alissa Zhu is a WBEZ news intern. Follow her @AlissaZhu.

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