Can States Bar Sex Offenders From Social Media?

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Is your politically-charged Facebook post, an Instagram photo of your last vacation, or Snapchat account a vital, Constitutionally protected right, or a privilege that can be taken away? That’s a question the U.S. Supreme Court is grappling with today as it hears a case involving a North Carolina law that bars registered sex offenders from using some social media platforms where users under the age of 18 are allowed, reports the Christian Science Monitor. While the state argues that the law blocks sexual predators from gathering information on potential victims, the plaintiff counters that the sweeping ban constitutes an infringement of the First Amendment and puts those on the registry outside of political conversation.

The First Amendment says legislators “shall make no law” restricting speech, but courts have ruled many times that the right is far from absolute, particularly when the safety of others comes into play. Privately-owned social media platforms have found themselves straddling the line between allowing free expression on their platforms and keeping sites clear of particularly offensive and abusive communication or obscene material, especially anything that would involve abuse of children. Today’s case involves Lester Packingham, who is in a 30-year term on the sex offender registry for pleading guilty to having consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl he was dating at the age of 21. He said he did not know how old the girl was. He was then found guilty of having a Facebook account.

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