Emerging Laws on Social Media and Sex Offenders
A recent study funded by the U.S. Justice Department and conducted by Utica College found that "an estimated 92,000 of the 570,000 registered sex offenders nationwide are using the internet to live freely and seemingly undetected." With today's widespread use of social media across all ages, this statistic can be a startling one. Technology continues to find innovative ways to interact and communicate with each other, but these advancements are not without their dangers. Furthermore, some state legislators have taken notice of this vulnerability and drafted laws concerning the use of social media.
In 2009, the state of Illinois "enacted changes to a law to make the use of social networking sites by registered sex offenders a class 4 felony." The law took effect on January 1, 2010 and was intended to ensure registered sex offenders kept both their Internet distance as well as their physical distance. While the intention behind Illinois' legislation is good, it is not without its flaws. For instance, the term social networking sites is too broad as it could include job search sites such as LinkedIn and Monster.com as well as shopping sites such as Amazon.com that enable its users to create profiles.
More recently, Louisiana passed a bill requiring "convicted sex offenders and child predators who setup a Facebook or other social networking page to post their criminal status in their profile." Louisiana's law went into effect on August 1 and is the second attempt by the state to protect social media users from online predators. An earlier law, which restricted sex and child predator criminals' use of social media sites, was abolished after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged the law by citing the First Amendment. In Indiana, a federal judge recently upheld a state law banning the use of social media sites by registered sex offenders, despite the ACLU filing a suit against the state.
Clearly, legislating the use of social media is novel to lawmakers and it is an area where opinions are split. While the intentions behind the legislation are good, human rights organizations such as the ACLU have challenged them on First Amendment grounds. Moreover, if you are an employer, should you rely on someone's Facebook profile as the basis for determining whether a job applicant is a registered sex offender even if you are in a state such as Louisiana that requires sex offenders to post their criminal status on their social networking sites?