New Louisiana Law Gives Sex Offenders A Scarlet Letter On Facebook

    June 25, 2012
    Josh Wolford

When it comes to registered sex offenders being allowed on social media sites like Facebook, maybe it’s more about open information and less about outright bans.

Unsure of the constitutionality of an outright ban on sex offenders using social networks, Louisiana State Representative Jeff Thompson authored a bill that will at least keep everything out in the open.

Signed into law back in May and effective on August 1st, Thompson’s law will require all registered sex offenders in the state to make that fact about themselves known on all social media sites – whether it be Facebook, Twitter, blog, gaming forum, etc.

You know, something like “Hi, my name is John, and I’m a registered sex offender” on your “About” page on Facebook or on your Twitter info right under your handle.

Is it okay for registered sex offenders to be on Facebook, Twitter, and the like as long as they provide information about their status and their crimes? Let us know in the comments.

The law says that the registered sex offenders “shall include in his profile for the networking website an indication that he is a sex offender or child predator and shall include notice of the crime for which he was convicted, the jurisdiction of conviction, a description of his physical characteristics…and his residential address.”

Of course, this law simply lengthens the reach of existing laws that cover prompt notification of status by sex offenders. As of now, those that wind up on the registry have to tell their neighbors and the school district where they reside.

Jeff Thompson

Registered sex offenders in Louisiana now have to share their sex offender status on social website like Facebook. This law is designed to create more accountability for the people who come into your home through your computer.
New law for sex offenders on Facebook
Registered sex offenders in Louisiana now have to share their sex offender status on social website like Facebook.

Although this new law affects policy on the local government end, rules are already in place on some social networks that outlaw convicted sex offenders from maintaining accounts. For instance, Facebook unequivocally states:

Convicted sex offenders are prohibited from using Facebook. Once we are able to verify a user’s status as a sex offender, we immediately disable their account and remove their account and all information associated with it.

This kind of direct and outright ban hasn’t stopped some states from passing bans of their own, however. Some states like Indiana already have laws on the books prohibiting convicted sex offenders from operating social media accounts. Many of these laws also restrict access to the interent in general. Groups like the ACLU are challenging these laws on a state-by-state level, saying that it’s a free speech issue and that it is a violation of someone’s constitutional rights to ban them from service that have become so ubiquitous in society.

In Thompson’s state of Louisiana, such a law was struck down in state court and ruled “unconstitutionally overbroad.” But lawmakers haven’t given up the fight as they passed a revised version of a social media ban law last month.

Thompson told CNN that he was skeptical that law would last, and that was the impetus for drafting his bill: “It may very well fall under scrutiny and attack. That’s one of the reasons that I created the bill I did. I’m not trying to create a ban. I’m just trying to create an expansion of the existing notice requirements.”

Whether or not to allow convicted sex offenders on social media is a tricky issue. Having them identify as such if allowed on said sites could also spark debate. On one hand, it does sound like a constitutional violation to ban someone from vital methods of communication. On the other hand, we know that places like Facebook can be a dangerous place for young children, and concerns could be heightened if Facebook ever allows kids under than age of 13 to legally create accounts.

But laws aren’t the same everywhere – can we really lump everyone on a sex offender registry into the same category? In most states you don’t have to sexually molest a child to end up on the sex offender registry. In fact, in some places you could wind up on the list for something like public urination or streaking. To be fair to Representative Thompson’s law, it does allow for the person to explain their crimes when informing their social media contacts of their status.

First off, do you think that people on a sex offender registry should be allowed on social networks? If so, with what sort of caveats? If you are initially against the idea, does this “scarlet letter” law making said offenders identify as such on the social sites do enough to ease your mind? Let us know what you think.