Can convicted sex offenders use social media?

Some states do limit a sex offenders access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, but is this restriction appropriate?

Maryland, like many other states, has a registry of convicted sex offenders. The Maryland registry was started in 1995, according to The Baltimore Sun. The registry shows just how common it is for someone who has committed a sexual crime to have restrictions and special rules to follow. For example, in some states, a convicted sexual offender cannot live near a school or park. Some states also try to limit a person’s use of social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Limiting access to underage people

Some states have enacted social media laws designed to limit the access sex offenders have to underage people. The laws vary by state, but may range from having to register as a sex offender with the website to being banned from the social network all together. In some cases, the restrictions are only in place during the probationary period. States with some type of social media restriction for sex offenders include the following:

  • South Carolina
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Kentucky
  • Illinois
  • Indiana

Typically, this type of restriction is meant to keep people convicted of this crime away from sites with pictures of young people, instant messaging services and chat rooms. These laws are in keeping with others that limit where someone convicted of a sexual offense can live and work.

Infringing on first amendment rights

The problem with this ban is that it can restrict a person’s ability to gather information and communicate with his or her peers. Many young people take to Facebook and Twitter to share special moments from their day. In fact, people 35 and younger may use social networking sites as their key source for news. The Supreme Court has recently started looking at a case that questions whether this type of restriction is appropriate.

The safety of the general public is often the main concern when policies regarding sexual offenders are made. However, people have to ask whether the laws being put forth by states are too broad and, therefore, too infringing. A complete ban from social media may take the restriction too far. The typical checklist used to ensure a state is not overstepping its bounds includes questioning whether there is a reason for the law, if the law limits free speech and whether there is a less restrictive way to meet the same goal.

In this instance, there is a reason for the ban, but it does excessively limit a person’s free speech. Depending on the decision made by the Supreme Court, convicted sex offenders may soon be able to join their peers on social media at least to some extent.

Those convicted of a sexual crime in Maryland may face restrictions. It may be helpful to work with a knowledgeable attorney if excessive bans are ever used.

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