Facebook Is Still No Country For Sex Offenders, Says Indiana Judge

    June 30, 2012
    Josh Wolford

“Sex offenders are deplorable and allowing them access to our children via Facebook is criminal.”

How about “it’s a universal human right, protected by the constitution, to be able to access these forms of communication as they amount to free speech.”

Those are the types of statements you’re likely to hear concerning sex offenders and social media. The problem is that it’s much more complicated than those polarizing statements suggest. That’s why states are currently coming to different conclusions surrounding similar laws.

The latest ruling comes from Indiana, where a federal judge has decided that a state ban on convicted sex offenders accessing social media sites like Facebook is lawful. The decision will be appealed by the ACLU, who have been fighting such laws around the country.

Here’s a simple one: Why is banning registered sex offenders from Facebook such a hot topic these days? Do you think that this kind of ban is a lazy way to deal with a tough problem? Let us know in the comments.

The ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union back in January. In a class-action challenge, the ACLU cited the unlawfulness of an Indiana statue that prohibits registered sex offenders from accessing any social networking site that can also be accessed by minors.

The actual statue reads:

…a person described in subsection who knowingly or intentionally uses a social networking web site; or an instant messaging or chat room program that the offender knows allows a person who is less than eighteen (18) years of age to access or use the web site or program commits a sex offender Internet offense, a Class A misdemeanor.

The ACLU’s problem with that law is that its overbroad and unconstitutional.

“To broadly prohibit such a large group of persons from ever using these modern forms of communication is just something the First Amendment cannot tolerate,” said Ken Falk, ACLU legal director, Indiana chapter.

Their argument states that social media is such a ubiquitous part of everyday life, and that it’s impossible to simply ban an entire segment of the population from using a necessary form of communication.

Judge Tanya Pratt thought otherwise, saying, “the Court readily concedes that social networking is a prominent feature of modern-day society; however, communication does not begin with a ‘Facebook wall post’ and end with a ‘140-character Tweet.'”

Indiana is not the only place where these kinds of laws are being battled in the courts. In Nebraska, a similar law banning registered sex offenders from holding social media accounts was axed. And in Louisiana, a sex offender Facebook ban was deemed “unconstitutionally overbroad.”

“Although the act is intended to promote the legitimate and compelling state interest of protecting minors from internet predators, the near total ban on internet access imposed by the act unreasonably restricts many ordinary activities that have become important to everyday life in today’s world,” wrote the Judge in his opinion.

That ruling hasn’t stopped proponents of the ban, who passed a revised version last month. One Louisiana lawmaker, unsure of the constitutionality of blanket bans, has passed a law requiring all registered sex offenders to list their status and crimes on any social network in which they participate.

Should sex offenders be allowed on Facebook (and other social outlets)? It’s obviously a highly contested premise. One side screams something about protecting children – while the other screams something about the first amendment and fairness. Factor in the discrepancies in “sex offender” laws which have people winding up on a registry for public urination, and you’ve got a rather complicated issue.

Plus, Facebook is pretty clear about it from their end:

“Convicted sex offenders are prohibited from using Facebook.”

Is access to Facebook and other forms of social media protected by the First Amendment? Do sex offender laws lack enough uniformity to make it immoral to lump people together in a blanket social media ban? Or is the idea of registered sex offender (no matter the crime) having access to communication channels with young kids so despicable that social media bans are the only way to deal with the issue? Let us know what you think in the comments.