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Is Facebook a Human Right or a Weapon?

Is Facebook a Human Right or a Weapon? image the scream

There was a very disturbing and significant social media-related court ruling last week that, curiously, has received little notice or commentary on the web. Let’s change that shall we?

A U.S. Federal Appeals Court ruled that an Indiana state law that bans registered sex offenders from Facebook is unconstitutional.

The ruling means thousands of Indiana’s registered sex offenders are now free to use Facebook and other social sites used by millions of children with computers and smartphones.

Is social media a human right?

The appeal was made by an Indianapolis man who had been convicted and served three years in prison on two counts of child exploitation. The overturned Indiana law had said that anyone convicted of sex crimes against children could be barred for life from using any social media site accessible to children.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana represented the man and argued that sex offenders are unjustly barred from using Twitter and Facebook, which can be used to do legitimate business over the Internet. The ACLU position was that the state must protect children “but should not do this with a law so broad that it prevents someone convicted of an offense years, or even decades ago, from engaging in a host of innocent communications via social media.”

The 7th District US Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU and overturned the law, which has been in place since 2008.

I am a defender of free speech of course but believe this ruling is exceptional in how it ignores the power of social media as a potential weapon of destruction. Why is the State of Indiana willingly and knowingly putting convicted child molesters back in business?

Re-arming the criminals?

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.

For a child molester, Facebook is an intoxicating playground. How can we allow our government to put this weapon back in the hands of the criminal? Do we really think convicted child molesters living free in our community will not be preying on more innocent children through online social networks?

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, there are approximately 750,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, a number that has soared 23 percent in five years, in part due to web-based predatory behavior.

Do you want these people hunting your children on Facebook?

Taking action

Although this is a state issue, it has national implications. I realize that the legal system is complex and many court cases are nuanced. This is not one of them. This is just wrong. Scary wrong.

Greg Zoeller

Here is the good news. The Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller hasn’t announced yet whether he will accept this decision or appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I have not been able to find an email address for this gentleman but I am going to tweet him at @GregZoeller. If you would like to join me, here is a handy tweet for you:

Attorney General @GregZoeller, please appeal the ruling that allows sex offenders to stalk our children on Facebook. Thank you.

Of course no law can substitute for good parenting and teaching your children about being safe on the web. One good resource is here.

Please feel free to weigh in on this issue in the comment section.

Mark Schaefer is an educator and marketing consultant specializing in social media workshops. He blogs at {grow} and is the author of several best-selling marketing books including Return On Influence.

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