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Should Sex Offenders Be Allowed On Facebook?

The discussion goes beyond that initial repulsive reaction

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Should Sex Offenders Be Allowed On Facebook?
[ Social Media]

I am not a father. Because of this, I don’t possess the visceral, instinctual drive to protect my children at all costs. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m insensitive to the challenges of protecting kids both online and offline, it simply means that safeguarding a kid’s experience in any activity that they pursue is not always my first consideration.

Having said that, even I find myself giving a quick, visceral, instinctual response to this question: Should sex offenders be allowed on Facebook?

“Well, of course not.”

And I’m pretty sure that I’m nowhere near alone regarding this sentiment. I mean, let’s look at a brief history of bad people on the internet. You have your scammers, identity thieves, malware perpetuators, and online sexual predators – out there in a class of their own. Scum amongst scum, the wart on the pig’s ass when it comes to internet exploitation. Ever since the first guy sat down in the first chat room and typed “a/s/l,” the interwebs have been a place for those who were inclined to attempt to prey on the young and vulnerable. Of course, that’s only one side of the internet, a dark side – but it’s there.

Do sex offenders have a constitutional claim to use social media? Let us know what you think in the comments.

That’s why you would be hard-pressed to find someone to immediately jump to the defense of sex offenders when it comes to their social media aspirations. People convicted of sex crimes + a giant network of hundreds of millions of teens as young as 13 (officially) = obvious disaster. Any parent or even non-parent can see how the anonymity and broad reach of social networking form a dangerous playground for kids. And that’s before you populate it with convicted sex offenders.

And most people do agree with this position – at least legislatively. Many states have laws on the books that put an outright ban on registered sex offenders using social networks. Sometimes these laws extend to things like instant messaging services and the like. The laws vary in their scope and severity, for instance Illinois law says that sex offenders must “refrain from accessing or using and social networking website while on probation, parole, or mandatory supervised release.”

In the state of New York, registered sex offenders must report all of their internet accounts – that includes email, instant messaging, and social networking accounts. That info can then be handed over to the services, who may boot the offenders at their own discretion. NY state law also puts an outright ban on social networking for sex offenders convicted of a crime against a minor or one involving the internet.

The point is, laws are nuanced. But in the United States, it’s just plain difficult to Facebook if you’re on the sex offender registry. For years, state attorneys general have been pushing the issue, which has led to the purging of sex offenders from networks likes Facebook and MySpace. Just recently, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Operation: Game Over. That punnily-named initiative targeted another form of online social networking – game networks. In all, he announced that some high-profile companies likes Microsoft, Apple, E.A., and Disney had expunged over 3,500 registered sex offenders from platforms like Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network.

The thought behind this operation is the same as the thought behind any operation to remove sex offenders from popular online networks. As the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s John Walsh put it, “we know that sex offenders target and lure children and how they look at the online community as their private, perverted hunting ground.” It’s hard to argue that the internet and social networking in particular makes predation easier than ever.

And with an estimated 745,000 registered sex offenders nationwide, it seems like an open and shut case, right? For the safety of the children, we should do all we can to prevent sex offenders from Facebooking.

For many (most, I would venture), that closes it. But it’s not that simple for some sex offenders and civil right organizations. According to the AP, there’s a wave of challenges to state laws banning sex offenders’ use of social media, and the American Civil Liberties Union is stepping in to spearhead many of them.

One of these laws being challenged by the ACLU comes from Indiana. Their code states that “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.”

“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, legal director of Indiana’s ACLU chapter.

To civil liberties activists, it’s a free speech issue. No longer are Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks simply extras in a world dominated by more established forms of communication. Social networking has become such an integral part of our lives as a society, that to deny a subset of the population access to this ubiquitous method of communication is unconstitutional – a violation of the first amendment. They argue that even registered sex offenders have the right to participate in our collective online discussion.

Indiana isn’t the only state where these laws are under fire. And the ACLU might have some precedent in their pockets. Back in February, a Louisiana judge ruled that a state law banning sex offenders from participating in social networking was “unconstitutionally overbroad.”

He wrote in his opinion:

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. The sweeping restrictions on the use of the internet for purposes completely unrelated to the activities sought to be banned by the Act impose severe and unwarranted restraints on constitutionally protected speech. More focused restriction that are narrowly tailored to address the specific conduct sought to be proscribed should be pursued.

As you can see, he leaves the door open for new legislation, albeit narrower legislation. The act that Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law in 2011 broadly banned “the using or accessing of social networking websites, chat rooms, and peer-to-peer networks by a person who is required to register as a sex offender [for violating statues involving minors].”

The judge’s decision invokes the same argument being championed by the ACLU – that these laws infringe on activities that have become so vital in today’s society. And when you think about it, the future may hold an even greater role for social media.

The free speech argument is strong enough to warrant consideration. Even so, it will be hard to sway public opinion on a topic that in so sensitive to so many people – the exploitation of children. Supporters of the strict no-social media laws need only reference cases like this to show why such laws are indeed necessary:

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly describes the almost unbelievable web of deceit constructed by one online predator named William Ainsworth earlier this year:

“What we found was an intricate web of false Facebook identities that were used to establish online relationships with vulnerable girls, who were then manipulated into sending nude photos to Ainsworth – believing he was a young surfer living in Florida – or physically meeting Ainsworth for sex – under the impression that those sexual encounters would help raise money so the girls could run away to Florida to be with their new online friend.”

Here’s how I broke down the sickeningly detailed scam in an earlier article about the case:

First, he created two fake Facebook profiles – Bill Cano and Anthony “Riip” Navari. He built up both profiles by creating a network of friends with people in the greater Pittsburgh area. Both of his characters were young surfers who had dropped out of high school and ran away to Florida. He supposedly bolstered the believability of his characters by taking images from around the internet.

Apparently, he amassed over 600 friends between the two fake profiles.

He then used Bill Cano to make contact with young girls. Once he had manipulated them by gaining their trust over a period of time, he would get them to send him nude and sexually explicit photos.

But that wasn’t enough. Here’s where the story takes an even darker turn.

Once Ainsworth had established a community of girls that cared about Bill Cano, he killed him off. Then comes “Rip” Navari, who swooped in posing to be Bill’s step-brother or best friend. He told the girls that Bill had been attacked and killed. It’s pretty easy to see how young girls could get wrapped up in all of this.

Ainsworth then put a third fake character into play, named Glenn Keefer. Keefer’s profile said that he was a “Sugardaddy looking for Sugarbabies,” living in the Pittsburgh area. Ainsworth used Rip to introduce the girls to Keefer. The story was that if they stripped or performed sex acts with Keefer, then he would give money to Rip so that Rip could help the girls fly down to Florida to be with him.

All in all, Ainsworth’s web tangled up 7 victims from the ages of 13-15. Five of those girls ended up sending nude photos and he actually met with two of them (posing as Keefer) for the purposes of sex.

It’s a story like that that makes people feel strongly about this issue. It’s also the reason why it’s so difficult to write laws that strike a balance between safety and personal liberty.

Even if the sex offenders and the civil liberties groups find success in challenging the state laws, they still could run into another roadblock. That’s because Facebook specifically prohibits convicted sex offenders from enjoying membership on their site.

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.

Facebook users are tasked with helping to rid the network of the sex offenders. They can provide Facebook with links to the violating user’s sex offender registry listing, a news article about the crime, or even a court document. Any of those articles of proof can get a registered offender banned.

From the side of protecting kids, it’s a no-brainer. Inarguably, social media sites like Facebook can be used as that “playground for online predators.” We’ve seen it happen on numerous occasions. In terms of safety, there are really no arguments against banning registered sex offenders from these sites.

On the side of free speech and constitutionality, it gets a bit trickier for some. Not everyone can agree that there are first amendment implications with this issue, and even the ones that do will find it hard to get past the simple fact that kids are much safer online without former (and current) sexual predators lurking around their Timelines.

What do you think? Is there a first amendment contradiction within these no-social media laws? Is it fair to ban an entire group from participating in something that’s such an integral part to modern life? Even if it’s unfair, should it matter? Does committing a sex crime against a child make you forfeit the fairness argument? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Should Sex Offenders Be Allowed On Facebook?
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  • Paul Badenhorst

    This is obviously an very emotional subject with some folks out there but lets take the emotion out of it. My opinion is a very big NO purely for the following reasons. 1. Sextual preditors are what they are for life, once an addict always and addict, even though it may be under control at a point it is aways there to resurface. 2. If living near schools is illegal how then can one justify them have social networking rights when this can very concievably put them in contact with a hell of a lot more kids than purely living near a school. 3. Youngsters,wether they want to believe it not, are gullable and easily mislead and these type of people are past-masters at doing just that. 4. My belief is that criminals, especialy this type, have forfeited certain human, social and/or constitunal rights when they became what they are. I have to be honest and say that my opinion is that in cases where sextual criminals, of any nature, are found guilty “WITHOUT DOUBT” (the case is absolute), Not “reasonable doubt” but “Without Doubt”, a death penalty should be imposed. Anyway, for what its worth, that is my opinion.

  • Richard

    All I have to say about these aberrations of human activity is that they should be put to death

  • L.

    Should sex offenders be allowed on Facebook?
    I am concerned this is even a question. Is there no wisdom and sensible reasoning left in the world today? The answer should be an obvious one. ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! No sex offenders should not be allowed on any social network or blog. They are predators with demented minds and dangerous confused mindsets. Their life-styles and stalking mentality is a menace to society. All sex offenders should either be in rehab for deliverance and medical help to be healed or in jail.

    • Jacob

      The problem with that mindset is that social networking has become far too close to a communication standard. Would you say that sex offenders shouldn’t be allowed to own a telephone?

      Furthermore, it’s important to note that a large number sex offenses are statutory between people in the 16-20 age range. People have relationships with people 10 or even 20 years younger later in life, so should a 20-year old who, mistakenly or not, has sex with a 16 or 17 year old really be branded a sick pervert for life? I think that’s completely backwards and that it is absurd to say that someone in such a position should never be allowed to make use of the largest communication service on the internet.

      There are a lot of details of this issue that people seem to gloss over without a second thought. Factors such as age and circumstances need to be considered before even thinking about applying such a ban.

  • http://rjnselection.co.uk Rich

    Its not just convicted sex offenders who could prey on children. I don’t think anyone should be banned there just needs to be stricter security.

  • Lou

    The problem with stating sex offenders is that it is inclusive of a lot of people who many would not consider that bad. For example, real stories from NJ include an 18 sophomore who was dating a 14 year old freshman who later married, but the 18 year old is a “sex offender.” Or the 20 year old guy who goes to a night club (false ID) and picks up a girl (also with fake ID who is 17), has consensual sex and the guy is now deemed a “sex offender.” Even the guy who gets drunk and exposed himself in a 7-11 where some children happened to be is now deemed a “sex offender.”

    Only 5% of those in NJ who are deemed “sex offenders” are actual pedophiles, yet these laws apply to 100%. And in NJ, the designation is for life — continual monitoring by a parole officer, registration, drug tests, workplace monitoring, home visits, etc.,

    For the 95%, I think our tax dollars are better spent elsewhere and that after a period of time, these people ought to be able to get on with their lives, including using FB.

  • The Plan

    Here are a couple of safety measures that would allow SOs to use social media with reasonable safety.
    1. Age restricted accounts where no post from a minor’s account can be seen by such an account and post from the account can seen by a minors account.
    2. Regular, perhaps Random checking of posts, perhaps automated notification of use of keywords that allow authorities to examine conversations through these accounts. in order to ascertain if the SO is at risk of offending.

    Note social isolation can be a stress trigger for SOs.
    Here in New Zealand the stress of being under investigation triggered an SO to kidnap rape and murder a tourist before committing suicide. This story offers a clue as how psychologically fragile SOs can be. The fact that they are so vilified, in media, and by the public at large renders them even more fragile.
    While we should not accept the offending, we should as a society, seek to help, accept and support SOs in the community. This would reduce their risk of re-offending and make the community safer.
    Evicting SOs from communities is pushing them in to trailer parks and into communities that are not resourced to deal with the risks and needs of SOs.

  • norm

    Not every sex offender is a pedophile… many of them would prefer to rape your wives than your daughters, so maybe they shouldn’t be let into Walmart either. Maybe no thieves should be let into any store? And perhaps a registry would murderers would be a better idea?

    Bottom line.. if your kid is accepting friend requests from strangers, you reared a little slut. You’re fault. Stop blaming Facebook.

  • norm

    Reading these comments it’s really apparent why the USA is going down the tubes.. laws laws and more laws.. it’s sad you americans don’t realize how an infinite amount of laws also makes your economy very untasteful for foreigners to do business with.

    Most sex offenders are not pedophiles.. they’d rather rape your wife or mother than your child… so? Keep them out of Walmart too? :)

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to begin keeping people who owe taxes off the internet so they cannot buy things until they’ve paid up??

    What about a registry for murderers? Would be nice, no?

    Nah… it’s too easy to get Americans in a tiffy about anything related to sex.. and since california now makes the porn industry wear condoms.. say goodbye to another few billion in your economy as they begin to move out of your police state.

    But we like it.. your real estate is so cheap my boss bought a whole block in florida, now he rents to americans who can kisss his cdn butt. He owns them. Suckers!

  • http://watching-the-world.com Doug Wilson

    People on face book, the internet and the world in general would benefit from adapting a personal system of individuality. I’m not talking about the religion of sexual lifestyles. I mean personal responsibility. When we give our lives to the rule of government we lose ourselves. We essentially become obsorbed like the “Borg”.

    We have a punish for profit system, just like we have a health care for profit system. This is government life or what realists call facism. It’s a religion and with it comes persecution. Persecution of any outside the government or church clutch. There is no healing there, only punishment and reward via the law.

    Individuals can protect themselves and others against any predetor except the collective governed mind. In fact protecting themselves might fall under the heading of duty, if there was such a thing. If there is such a thing as duty then it falls to us, not the religion of regulation.

    • Deb

      You are so right…responsibility for ourselves! The ‘system’ is broken…and our freedoms are being shredded

  • Dad

    If there were capital punishment for rapists and peodophiles, this would not be a problem.

    • Deb

      but how do you KNOW? capital punishment when the person accused might not actually be guilty?

  • Mike Legar

    To ban access to Internet to any individual or group is obviously a crime. What is needed is responsible parents that can give their children love and protection. A healthy child keeps away from harms way instinctively. And a healthy child will grow to become a responsible adult that won’t be looking for somebody to harm and even less harm somebody through Internet communication. If you ban somebody in trouble from entering Internet you put him or her into deeper trouble and will cause deeper problems. Ken Falk is right.

  • Joshua

    I am somebody who has the responsibility to take care of a lot of children of different ages. I would not want anybody to be able to prey on them.

    I had skimmed through an earlier post, and I agree that if somebody is wrongly accused, they should not be blocked.. However, what about preventing offenders from using sites like myspace, facebook, Google+, etc (to prevent networking with minors), but not preventing them from complete internet access? Perhaps monitoring what they are doing; implementing something that will monitor their internet access to prevent repetition of the crimes that they were convicted of?

    I have read through various comments, and can see different sides of this. Each situation may be different; that is true. There are different cases and different situations. I once knew somebody who did something in their youth, who was remorseful, and received prison time as an adult. I also knew another who was a victim, and this person had severe psychological damage, and they had confusion about how they needed to handle situations and relationships.

    I am also aware of the “dirty old men,” that prey on children. There are people who do that, and I believe that there are both men and women that do.

    I think that most of these people were not like that their whole life. Some were likely victims themselves, but others, at some point became these people that we want to keep our kids away from, and we would not understand the person without psychological evaluation. This thing is not something that people are born with. For whatever reason, whether by experiences or choices, they became like that.

    We do not really know the story behind each person, and likely, we often do not want to know.

    Despite this, I would still want to protect my children (if I had them), and also those who that I have responsibility to care for.

    The internet is one of the primary ways for communication now. Internet and phone. Laws that require the offender to provide account information are good. Keeping people from using social networking to manipulate kids, youth, and other people is good. I do not believe blocking the offenders from facebook and myspace, etc is the same as blocking them from using the internet. It is true that these people (at least in the USA), often (if not always) must report that they are a registered offender. This can (and likely will) affect employment.

    I think that reporting account information, and monitoring their internet use could be very useful. Maybe also something can be created to verify that a person is who they say they are. More than bot checking programs. We also need to listen to children when they are telling us something that may indicate some form of abuse is happening to them.

  • Naomi R. Verbosky

    Of course not. We shouldn’t even have to be asking these questioms. It shouldn’t surprise anyone what is happening today. Read history, and the Bible, and it’s all there. Better get read people.There is a God and it’s more spiritual than you think. Naomi.

  • Sophia Porter

    I feel that sex offenders should not be on any website because what they are doing to little children can damage them for life and cause them not to be in any type of relationship with any man/women when they get older. I have two beautiful children and I prey to God everyday that they are protected in the schools and on school grounds. Even if the sex offenders wanted to use any of the websites, they should be question whether if they ever had a criminal record of some kind in their pass. In this matter this will put them in phase where they would have to question themselves. Once again I feel that sex offenders should not be on any website.

  • anon

    As a father, I (and hopefully every actual loving protective parent with common sense), would agree with a complete ban on ANY sex offender from accessing anything that could directly or indirectly have access to children. EVERYONE knows how vile sex offences of any type are, and those that prey on minors should lose there right to LIFE, let alone the internet.
    Yes there are self righteous do good types (normally with no children and never been out of a university) that wish to protect these wastes of air. To give a child sex offender any rights or protection surely allows their vile behaviour makes you no better than them.
    So to summise. If convicted, ban them from everything.

  • Heidi

    Sex offenders ought to be knocked!.They;re not human.They’re animals,predators.They should not have any rights,did they consider the rights of the innoncent they abused?,no they didn’t,because they don’t and didn’t care.They’re cowards!,losers…who couldn’t get a man or woman if they tried because they don’t know how to appropiately act socially!.As for the one’s that abuse their own kids,they’re just sick puppies..how can u molest,something you created…like i said..SICKOS…They shouldn’t have a right to a life,let alone any rights at all,especially on social media sites.Theirs only one good type of sex offender and thats a…DEAD ONE!.

  • Taipan

    Sex offenders ought to be KNOCKED…they’re not human so why give those mongrels any right what so ever..they’re animals..sickos..sick puppies.Demented in the head.what do you do to a animal that is a lost cause?,you put it down right…well thats what Australia and all countries should do to sex offenders.Why should they have rights?,did they give any right to their victims,no..so whu give them any?.They don’t deserve to live,they do not deserve a live,let alone access to social media.We need to get rid of the lot…any takers???…

  • Chuck

    You all need to look up Romeo and Juliet law and realize there are sickos but most offenders are in the catorgory of mislead youth or bad relationship or everu a minor difference in age to punish all by one standard is not just unfair to them but to all of us due to the wasted time and resohrces on the ones who do follow their provisions . If it would help sure but it doesnt we should focus our anger and funds on repeat on non compliant offenders and let the mislead or misdemeanor offenders just serve their time and introduce the back to society if we keep allienateing them then we make these laws and our tax dollars a waste and ineffective but if we focus on the truly dangerous then we protect. Offender or not their ppl just like murders and scammers and they do have rights when we take thos from them then were no better than they areand are breaking the laws on which ppl have fought a died for null n void

  • http://www.chalilozdemir.com C.Halil Özdemir

    :)) If the offenders are ban from Facebook the most affected by police and FBI, CIA, CID, NSA, DEA, DIA, DSS and NCIS agents departments.

  • http://www.ultimate-chatzone.com Video Chat Zone

    No. Pedophiles should be banned entirely. I run and manage over 50 chat sites and we permanently ban from the server side all users who go into our teen chat rooms to offend.

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