The Supreme Court should strike down the North Carolina law that bans sex offenders from using social media, and early arguments indicate that will happen. We can and should protect children online from predators, but we should not do so in a way that radically restricts free speech – including two of the most important websites (Facebook and Twitter) for political organizing and information.
First, I want to address an unbelievably offensive headline on Slate: First, They Came for the Sex Offenders… This is anti-Semitic and borders on hate speech. Slate is actually equating punishment of people who have committed terrible crimes (including some crimes worthy of death) with the mass slaughter of millions of completely innocent people, including children. No matter how much you think this law is wrong, the Nazi analogy is heavy handed and just plain immoral.
To a large degree, we would not have this problem if we actually killed people who committed crimes worthy of death. Someone who is executed for rape or child molestation would not be able to sign up for a social media service. The fact that our “justice” system, our courts and our legislators have abandoned their God-given responsibility to bear the sword in His name has created a mess where we have to deal with people who should never be in society in the first place.
With that said, it is also important to remember that the term “sex offender” is very broad. When we hear “sex offender” we think of a monster who has committed unimaginably evil deeds. However, “sex offender” could include an 18 year old who has sex with his 15 year old girlfriend. We have seen teenagers charged with child pornography for sending pictures to each other. (See here and here and here.) In some cases, someone who was caught urinating in public with no sexual or exhibitionist intent is labeled as a “sex offender.” We need to drastically reform the way we classify “sex offenders.”
The North Carolina law, however, goes too far. It cuts too many people off from services that are very important means of engaging in society. In some cases, it can make it more difficult to find meaningful employment, because LinkedIN does not limit membership to adults. Shame on North Carolina for taking this all the way to the Supreme Court, where it will likely be struck down, when they could have simply repealed it and passed a new law with the goal of protecting children without unnecessarily restricting free speech rights.