Social Media Notification For Sex Offenders – Scarlett Letter or Smart Move?
Scarlett letter or smart move? That is the heart of the question surrounding one of the most controversial social media laws in the nation; as of last week, Louisiana became the first state in the nation to require sexual offenders and child predators to publically state their criminal status on all social media sites including Facebook. The law, which will go into effect August 1st, was specifically designed to withstand constitutional challenges after an original attempt to ban sex offenders from using the Internet was struck down as a violation of constitutional rights. Now, rather than omit the use of the Internet, the new law simply expands existing sex offender registration requirements to include the Internet. Currently, most states have some provisions which require sex offenders and predators to register their whereabouts with police and notify local police, schools and other areas where children might be at risk. In a similar fashion, the new law requires sex offenders and child predators to “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.”
Supports Current Efforts by Law Enforcement and Social Media
Advocates of the legislation are already calling for a nationwide expansion of the Louisiana law citing the need to support local law enforcement and existing social media efforts to combat the growing problem of online stalking, sexual abuse and predatory child practices. Social networks have been hard at work removing known sex offenders for years but it isn’t always easy; many offenders simply use another name or alias. While the current legislation won’t necessarily fix the problem overnight, it does provide additional means to prosecute known offenders. Currently, social media sites have little recourse other than tossing out the offender due to a breach of the general “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities”. Legal requirements to register email accounts, internet address/websites and now social media sites help keep track of the usage patterns, connections and movements of known offenders as well as provide potential legal consequences for violations. In fact, violations could face relatively stiff penalties.
Violations of the upcoming Louisiana law could face imprisonment from 2-10 years without parole and a fine of up to $1,000. A second conviction would carry a 3-20 year term without parole and fine up to $3,000.
The law is not without criticism especially from civil liberty groups and those that worry the social stigma associated with expanded disclosure laws could further penalize sex offenders and predators. Others voice concerns over the wide variation in definition of sexual predator (usually the most aggressive/serious violations) and sex offender ( typically a more variable range of actions) citing concern that without a nationwide option, predators and offenders would simply relocate to other states to avoid the stipulation. Not surprisingly, the prospect of offenders relocating to less restrictive areas is less than attractive to citizens of nearby states and a constant reminder of the growing difficulty in finding homes and jobs for sex related criminals.
Implications for Small Business
Whether you are personally for or against the expansion of offender notification laws, the implications for small business and social media management firm are extensive. The following points provide a few critical areas of concern:
1. Background checks for online social media management is becoming more important than ever! Does your social media management firm perform background checks on employees? If your business or social media site interacts with children under the age of 18 it is a good idea to implement every safety precaution possible. Any operation doing business in Louisiana by August 1st should be extremely cautious in who is managing their online social media interaction and be sure to comply with any and all notification requirements in the event of a criminal history.
2. Establish a reporting routine. Facebook and other social media sites already have express Rights and Responsibilities concerning the exclusion of sex offenders and predators; make sure you understand how to report infractions in order to keep vulnerable populations safe online and off.
3. Screening may eventually become essential. There is a double edged sword to the Louisiana approach to the problem; by insisting upon the expansion of notification requirements, some social media sites may allow predators to remain on the site rather than remove them. To date, Facebook has already stated that changes to Louisiana law will not impact current business practices but currently, there is no word from other social media sites. If offenders are allowed to remain on social media sites, it will become more important to institute a screening process when working with new clients…especially if your business deals with children or other vulnerable populations.
What is your opinion about the expanded reporting law instituted in Louisiana – Is it a modern day equivalent to the Scarlett Letter or smart idea?