Should Sexual Predators Be Banned From Social Media?

The Supreme Court hears a case this week about sex offenders and Facebook.

Posted Feb 27, 2017

Flickr/Caden Crawford
Source: Flickr/Caden Crawford

North Carolina law currently makes it illegal for any registered sex offender to use social media. This week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments from one man who was convicted of having a Facebook account under a law he claims is a violation of the First Amendment.

The state argues that sex offenders can use social media to find victims and thus they should be banned from using it. While this can certainly happen, people—including sex offenders—do a lot of other perfectly legal, non-harmful things on social media. Lawyers arguing against the NC law assert that the state cannot ban all types of speech simply because of the platform where it takes place; that would violate the constitution. 

From my perspective, as someone who has studied social media since the moment it came into existence, these laws have a dated view of the role social media plays in our lives. There is no question that all kinds of illegal activity takes place online. However, laws like this one in North Carolina treat social media as some kind of special technology that is used for only certain types of communication. That is simply not the reality for most users. 

Some 80% of Americans with internet access use Facebook. Of those, 76% use the site every day. And Facebook is just one platform. The Trump candidacy and Presidency have shown us the power of Twitter as a platform for communication and engagement. Social media has become a way for the vast majority of Americans to engage in every type of speech. It is critical to many people's engagement in politics, their social engagement with friends and family, their professional networking, and their self-expression. It is, simply put, as much a part of communication as simply speaking for some people. 

None of this is to argue that states shouldn't make laws to stop sexual predators from contacting potential victims online. However, there are narrower, constitutional ways to block certain types of interactions that are more targeted than blocking a population from using platforms that have become a basic part of modern communication.

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