August 17, 2019 | 84° F

EDITORIAL: Regulating Facebook for sex offenders?

North Carolina law targets sexual predators in misguided methods


About 98 percent of adults who are in their “college age” — 18 to 24 years old — are using social media apps or sites in a typical month. Everywhere you go, you can see people using Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, amongst other things. It seems like everyone’s doing it. But in North Carolina, this is not the case.

The Old North State has a law that has been presented to the Supreme Court that does not allow for registered sex offenders to use social media. The details around the law stemmed from the 2010 case of Lester Packingham who was convicted for — yes — owning a Facebook account.

Packingham was put on trial several years back when he was 21 years old because he was found to have had sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl. The sex was reportedly consensual, the two were dating and Packingham had stated that he had no prior knowledge of the girl’s age. Packingham was convicted and registered as a sex offender. And eventually, he was brought in front of a court again because of his Facebook account.

The United States Supreme Court brought this case to attention again on Monday because of their concerns around the legality of this law, especially in regards to the First Amendment, which constitutes the freedom of speech.

North Carolina had implemented this law because the state government believed that barring registered sex offenders from social media would help to take “what is often the critical first step in the sexual assault of a child.”

The argument surrounding Packingham as well as all other registered sex offenders brings up a rather difficult conversation. There are about 850,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. Someone who is registered as a sex offender could have done anything from having urinated in public to having raped a child. North Carolina has even stricter laws regarding sexual offenders, making it required for them to wear a GPS for the rest of their lives and even banning them from areas where are frequented by minors. While taking actions against registered sex offenders is extremely important, is North Carolina’s ruling going to benefit their cause? And is the U.S. Supreme Court right in their assertion that this law impedes on the First Amendment rights of these people?

Yes, this law does interfere with the First Amendment rights of people, even if they are sex offenders. And while in theory, it seems possible that limiting the social media use of sexual predators may decrease incidents of sexual assault, this may not necessarily be the case. Many people who oppose North Carolina’s law have stated that barring sex offenders from social media makes it harder for them to assimilate back into regular society. But is this what we want anyway?

Registered sex offenders may have to go through a series of steps that ensures that their information is available to the public, however, jail time and a registry do not always do much to help the issue at hand. Sexual offenders who have these urges to cause sexual harm to others need more than a cell and warning signs to help them, they need help from professionals and proper treatment before we can even think to bring them back into society. Sexual offenders being on Facebook and Snapchat should be the least of the state’s worries.

The issue at hand here is much larger than determining who can and can’t use social media. Although North Carolina’s intentions may be in the right place, the execution is poor. Rather than focusing on what social media registered sex offenders have, we should be focusing on how to get to the core of the problem — the sex offenders themselves, not what apps they frequent.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 149th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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