As detailed on Reuters this week, Louisiana lawmakers have pushed through a bill and recently signed into law a new requirement for registered sex offenders in regards to social media. According to Louisiana State Representative Jeff Thompson, convicted child predators and sex offenders have to post all of their crimes on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. If a convicted sex offender fails to post this information on their social profiles, they will face a felony charge which comes with a penalty of two to ten years in prison along with a $1,000 fine. A second infraction would bring a harsher sentence that could reach up to twenty years in prison. When asked about the law, Thompson stated “We don’t want to leave it to Facebook police to go out and check on these individuals.”
However, the bill does a terrible job of specifically identifying a location on the social profiles to post this information. While some convicted sex offenders could put it in the Info section of the profile, others could create a status update with the information and backdate the post on Facebook Timeline to hide the information in a post that’s on the page, but several years old.
It’s unlikely that anyone would be able to locate this information without purposely digging through years of data, but the sex offender would technically be following the new law. Twitter would be more difficult to conceal a new post, but that network allows for increased anonymity.
According to site policy, Facebook doesn’t allow convicted sex offenders from using the social network. However, a convicted sex offender can easily get around that policy by not disclosing that information to Facebook. It’s also possible that they could technically disclose the information on Facebook Timeline or the info page, but Facebook employees would never notice unless other Facebook users reported the profile. According to Louisiana criminal defense lawyer Walter Sanchez, he stated “This law is a way of facilitating Facebook’s awareness that offenders are using their site.”
Twitter doesn’t specifically ban sex offenders from using the social network in the terms of service. However, both Twitter and Facebook ban users under the age of thirteen from using those social networks. That rule is often circumvented by children as they set up profiles at the age limit to get around the restriction.
After the law takes effect during August 2012, Louisiana law enforcement could potentially face the problem of vigilantes setting up fake Facebook and Twitter profiles for local sex offenders. Sex offender registry data is extremely easy to locate on the Web and mobile application developers have even created sex offender apps for Android and iOS smartphones that visually lay out sex offender locations on a map complete with pictures and information about the person’s crimes.
Hypothetically, someone that wants to get rid of a sex offender living in their neighborhood could anonymously create a social profile for the sex offender within minutes at a local Internet cafe, coffee shop or library. This type of action could lead to wrongful imprisonment of a sex offender, a serious potential problem for Louisiana lawmakers that would need to be addressed in a revision to the law.