|Facebook: Sex Offenders Need Not Apply!
|By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist
Two articles dealing with Facebook caught my attention recently. The first by DeConto described a North Carolina lawsuit challenging state statute §14-202.5 as unconstitutional. This law prohibits registered sex offenders, …. “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages on the commercial social networking Web site.” Violations are a Class I felony (punishable but up to 5 years or fine or both). The arguments appear to be centered on freedom of speech and the law is too broad.
At about the same time an article was written by Brennan describing how difficult it was for a New York police department to keep sex offenders off of Facebook. The article noted:
“ But local law enforcement is almost powerless to monitor sex offenders allowed to use websites such as Facebook. ‘We have our hands tied, unless they’re supposed to refrain (from using social networking),’ said Steuben County Sheriff Joel Ordway. Ted Murray, Hornell police chief, agreed with Ordway. ‘Unless they’re on probation or parole, there are no restrictions prohibiting them from being on a site like that (Facebook),’ he said.” 1
So we have articles noting a legal challenge against a law restricting sex offenders from Facebook and another noting a different state’s law enforcement being practically powerless to remove sex offenders from social networking sites (SNS). What is the story? Are sex offenders allowed on Facebook?
Drum roll please… the answer is… sex offenders are prohibited from using Facebook. Take a look at their user agreement. Specifically: Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, 4. Registration and Account Security, Item 6, reflects: “You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender.” Facebook goes a step further and provides a method for notifying them of convicted sex offenders on their site.
Why would Facebook have such a policy? They are a private concern and have a right to set their policy as long as it doesn’t discriminate. Sex offenders, last time I checked are not a protected class. So they can set their policy to not exclude them. Some users may actually join Facebook or at least feel some comfort in joining because of this policy. They join with the belief that sex offenders aren’t allowed on the website, a belief that is enforced by Facebook’s policy on reporting sex offenders for action. That is what is called “freedom of association,” another one of those constitutional rights we have. So a private company sets up a rule excluding a non-protected group from joining, a group that represents a risk to minors. I am sure the courts will decide whose rights are more compelling, the sex offender’s first amendment right or the general public’s to associate with whom they chose.
During the discussion we need not forget that SNS are fundamentally different from other communicationvenues in the real world. A sex offender can be anyone they want to be on a SNS. They can be kid or the opposite sex. They can pretend to be several different people, all in an attempt to entice or mislead a minor. They can’t easily accomplish these tricks in the real world. Additionally, in those public places in the real world there are police walking around…parents…other kids….folks that can stop them or at least identify them. A sex offender on a SNS can hide, manipulate, and prey, without much concern about someone seeing them and/or identifying them before they strike. It is different than the real world and the danger can be much higher indeed!
So what does all this mean for a community supervision officer with a sex offender who has a Facebook profile? Consider the following suggestions:
If you don’t think it is important to be concerned about a supervised sex offender on a SNS check out Burton’s article below. It is about a law suit filed against Cook County Probation Department regarding a sex offender case. The suit was filed by a mother who found a sex offender, not online through MySpace® like her daughter…but in act of raping her in her own bedroom. For now remember, convicted sex offenders are not authorized to use Facebook!
Brennan, Lynn, “The Ugly Side of Facebook”, from The Evening Tribune
Burton, Cherly, “Mother files suit for alleged rape victim, 13″
DeConto, Jesse, “Pol Defends Keeping Pervs off Facebook” from The Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer
Facebook User Agreement, Dated October 4, 2010,Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, 4.Registration and Account Security, Item 6.
North Carolina Revised General Statutes, Chapter 14, Criminal Law.
North Carolina § 14-202.5. Ban Use of Commercial Social Networking Web Sites by Sex Offenders.
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