Law bans sex offenders from social networks, but which ones?
Posted February 28, 2012
Under a law enacted in 2008, registered sex offenders in North Carolina are not allowed to use social media websites. Since that time, the face of social media has continued to change, making the law harder and harder to figure out.
The law says registered sex offenders can't use Facebook or MySpace. Beyond that, the definition of a "social network" gets gray.
"We have found thousands of sex offenders on these social networking sites," said Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Tim Radford is a registered sex offender in Johnston County. He hasn't been in trouble since he was released from prison on drug charges in 2005. But WRAL News received a tip from someone concerned that he was on Facebook and YouTube.
After WRAL News tried to contact him about the Facebook page, it was taken down. A YouTube channel where anyone can watch Radford's videos and comment freely still exists.
Cooper said the argument can be made that YouTube is a social network site.
"You can communicate with other people. It's certainly a place where people can go to comment on videos," he said.
Many websites offer message boards where users can interact. The law is not clear if that social interaction is part of the ban.
That makes obeying the rules difficult.
"It's impossible for people to know if they're violating," said Glenn Gerding, a Chapel Hill defense attorney.
He thinks the ban on social networks is unconstitutional. He argued a case on this issue and, while it was thrown out, he believes more cases will be fought until the law is clear.
"I've talked with folks at the General Assembly, and they say they know it's unconstitutional, but they don't want to be the ones that vote against it," Gerding said. "They want the courts to decide."
All sides want to protect children.
"We don't want registered sex offenders to have this tool to potentially harm people in our communities," Cooper said. But he agrees that lawmakers should go back and review the statute.
Facebook and Myspace compare their users against registered sex offender registries. If the sites identify a sex offender, their page is shut down.