Sex Offenders in Social Media and Their First Amendment Rights

Internet law can be tricky, especially when pedophiles want access to use social networks, like Facebook. The courts in Indiana are at odds with one another over sex offenders using Facebook. While one court wants to protect kids, the other court took advice from the ACLU about a sex offender’s First Amendment rights. So the previous ban on sex offenders having access to Facebook was overturned. Indiana isn’t the only state whose courts heard a similar argument. California has also wrestled with this problem.

“that proposition has been put on hold because of a preliminary injunction [PDF] from a San Francisco federal judge, who says that the new law is just too wide-ranging and could violate the constitutional rights of offenders.” source

Mark Schaefer asks if Facebook is a human right or a weapon and has an interesting conversation about this in his comment section. I understand his question about re-arming criminals when he said,

“There are lots of examples in our society where we take freedom away from those who aim to harm us and infringe on the freedom of others. If you kill somebody, your right to carry a gun and live free comes to an abrupt end … probably forever. If you are known child molester, you need to stay away from school yards, Boy Scout troops, youth groups, and any other place children gather. Forever.”

He went on to say,

“For a child molester, Facebook is an intoxicating playground.”

Lisa Vaas over at Naked Security (no pun intended) writes about a story where Facebook moderators helped protect a 13 yeard of girl from a dangerous incident. The man was arrested the next day.

In June of 2012, Business Insider published an article about the state of Louisiana requiring sex offenders to identify themselves as a sex offender on their Facebook profiles.

Facebook currently has a policy and a feature for reporting sex offenders in their network.

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While the village is doing what they can to determine what the best practice is to legally protect children, the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents. Social Shield has a system you can sign up for to notify you of inappropriate and dangerous activity on your child’s social media accounts. Their system monitors who sends your child a friend request and flags conversations that contain words such as sex, cut, depressed, etc. We used their service when our daughter was 14 years old and my heart skipped beat when the first notification came through. The system sent me an email immediately after my daughter said something about her fish ‘dying’ and going to ‘heaven’. I had a deep sigh of relief and at the same time realized how detailed oriented their service is to protect children.

What if you can’t afford the financial investment to sign up for such a service? What’s a parent to do?

  1. Read the terms of service for every website your child signs up for. Find out if they have parental controls and use them!
  2. Have full access to read your child’s Facebook page, Myspace, Twitter etc.
  3. Insist to have the password and check their account regularly.
  4. Know each site’s security settings and tighten them up! On Facebook, you can halt people who are not friends from sending private messages. On Twitter, you can make their accounts private so strangers can’t see their tweets.
  5. Have an open relationship with your kids. Let them know how knowledgeable you are about the Internet and talk about the real dangers of online bullying and stalking.

Here are some resources you may want to keep bookmarked:
Cyber Bullying at Kids Health
Cyber Bullying for kids at BrainPop
Protect Kids Online
FBI’s online safety guide for Parents
How to protect your kids from cyberstalking

So how do you feel about registered sex offenders having access to social networks?

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Lisa blogs at The HomeSpun Life and is a contributor at The Homeschool Post. She enjoys blogging, photography, and cooking. Her homeschooling family is active in their community and enjoys traveling with friends and family.

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  1. Well, that’s both a relief and a concern. First, I didn’t realize that Facebook even HAD a policy about sex offenders. And second, knowing that chats are being run through a database of predatory conversations makes me feel at least a little better. Not better enough to let my 12 year old have a Facebook, but better. There’s still no substitute for vigilant parenting!

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