Most people don’t include the gritty details of their legal pasts under the info section of our Facebook pages. No one is forced to rattle off old parking tickets or to reveal past arrests. But as of August 1, sex offenders and child predators in Louisiana must make their criminal status clear on their social networking pages.
While the standards for sex offender registration and notification have always been high, a new law authored by Louisiana State Representative Jeff Thompson takes public disclosure one step further. It's the first law of its kind in the nation.
Jeff Thompson is the representative who authored the bill, and Jeff Jarvis is a journalism professor at CUNY who's been following its progress.
"What this law does is expand the currently existing notice requirements that Louisiana has had since 1993 to provide information about the people that come into your home by the internet in a social networking, social media settings," Thompson says.
Jarvis' concern with the law stems from the idea of where the line should be drawn on the restriction of sex offenders' rights. He fears that the marking of sex offenders on social networks could establish a precedent for more aggressive marketing. "If we forbid someone to use the internet, or now Facebook, then why not forbid them to use other tools of luring people, which could include their cars or telephones?"
Thompson acknowledges that there is a balance that must be found between First Amendment rights and the importance of public safety, but argues that his law has found it. "It's been a very compassionate, thoughtful process."
"Social media is a street corner, and if you live in the street corner near my house, you've already got to provide me with notice that you're a sexual predator. If you're at a street corner near a school, you must provide that superintendent with notice," Thompson says. In the case of social media, "that street corner is now in my house."