North Carolina's Sex Offender Social Media Ban is Coming Under Scrutiny

Duke Political Review
In 2010, a North Carolina man found himself under a criminal investigation for committing a heinous felony - creating a Facebook account. The police searched his home, and he faced a conviction for making the account. The man in question - Lester Packingham - had previously plead guilty on the charge of having consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl, Packingham was 21 at the time.

In North Carolina, it's actually against the law for sex offenders to have certain social media accounts, namely Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and a few others which are accessible for under 18s. This state law has never really came under intense scrutiny until now, but Packingham is contesting that it runs counter to several articles of freedom of speech laid down in the United States Constitution.

Packingham has had no further offences since his first conviction, and when the police searched his home they turned up nothing. He also claims that he was never aware of the girl's age, they had been in a relationship at the time. However you might land on the Packingham case, it's hard to argue that, where the social media issue is concerned, the guy kind of has a point.

North Carolina lawmakers introduced the social media ban to prevent sex offenders from taking what is often the first step in grooming and luring children. Of course, only a very small contingent of registered sex offenders are pedophiles, and many of them have never done, or displayed intent to do, anything which might endanger others. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that they won't.

Being able to differentiate between a potentially dangerous sex offender and, well, a creep, isn't easy. Their offence might have been a one-off, or it might have just been the one time they weren't careful enough not to get caught. Technically speaking, however, sex offenders aren't in prison, so they still technically have the right to their civil liberties. Facebook counts as one of them.

This is far from the only law which clashes with the first amendment, but it raises an interesting question - can you consider social media access a form of freedom of speech? In a sense, yes. Other states prohibit people on parole from using certain parts of social media platforms, but never ban them from them outright. On Monday the US Supreme Court will hear the arguments, so we could well see the law overturned.

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