Sex Offenders on Facebook: What’s Their Status?

Federal court rulings have states trying different approaches to regulate convicted sex offenders on social networks.

by / June 25, 2012

A federal judge has upheld a ban implemented by Indiana that barred registered sex offenders from using Facebook.

Indiana’s ban is limited to only social networking sites that can be accessed by children. Federal judges had previously struck down similar laws in Nebraska and Louisiana because they were too broad, The Washington Post reported.

In lieu of an outright ban, Louisiana passed a new law requiring registered sex offenders to post their criminal status on social network sites such as Facebook. The law is scheduled to go into effect in August.

According to various media reports, state Rep. Jeff Thompson claims the law is the first of its kind in the nation and hopes other states will follow suit. The law was drafted with the intention of keeping children safe when they use social networking sites.

“It provides the same notice to persons in whose home you are injecting yourself via the Internet,” Thompson said, according to CNN.

The law says that any sex offender and child predator in the state "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."

Walter Sanchez, a criminal defense lawyer in Louisiana, said, “This law is a way of facilitating Facebook's awareness that offenders are using their site.”

Louisiana’s new law adds to existing sex offender registry requirements for community notification of criminal status. According to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, registered sex offenders are required to provide community notification within 21 days of conviction or release from confinement.

Social networking platforms like Facebook are already taking measures to keep sex offenders off their site. According to its terms of service, Facebook bans the use of its site by convicted sex offenders. But other social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn have no such conditions in their terms of service. 

Convicted sex offenders in Louisiana who circumvent Facebook’s policy and maintain a Facebook page or other social networking profile without following the new law may be subjected to two to 10 years of prison with hard labor without parole and a fine of up to $1,000. A second conviction could extend the penalty to five to 20 years of prison without parole and a fine of up to $3,000.

But should registered sex offenders surrender their rights to privacy on social networks?

According to Mobiledia, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in recent months has been working with registered sex offenders to fight for their right to have a presence on social media. The ACLU hopes to prove that laws prohibiting sex offenders from using social networking sites is unconstitutional and an infringement on First Amendment rights.

The ACLU is reportedly considering an appeal of the upheld Indiana ban.

Should states require registered sex offenders to post their criminal status on Facebook and other social networking sites? Share your opinion in the comment section below.