If you’ve ever seen an episode of “To Catch a Predator,” you know these nightmare-ish tales all to well –stories of grown men (or women) prowling the Internet through chatrooms and social networking sites for a child to prey on. It is every parent’s nightmare and probably biggest fear when his/her child starts to use these increasingly popular social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. In a controversial move to help protect children from becoming the next victim of a sexual predator, Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites have begun to remove convicted sex offenders from their sites. Thanks to new state laws in places like New York and Connecticut which provide social networking sites with names and emails of sex offenders, thousands of sex offenders have been removed. In a January 25th article by Mark Davis titled “Sex Offender Removal from Social Sites,” Davis notes that across the nation MySpace has removed 102,000 members and Facebook has removed nearly 10,000. Davis also mentions that 150 of these removals came from Connecticut-based sex offenders. In New York State, Attorney General Cuomo has made the removal of sexual offenders from social networking sites a major goal of his term. The new program named e-STOP required offenders to register their email addresses with the state. With this information, 3,533 members were removed from MySpace and Facebook and 803 members from other social networking sites such as MyLife and Flickr. A shocking fact noted in an article by Roy Edroso on February 2, 2010 is that the 803 members that were removed were using over 6,000 separate online identities! Cuomo has vowed to continue this fight to remove sexual offenders from social networking sites and has even asked sites aimed towards younger children to look through their list of members as well. Reactions to these removals have been mixed. Some people support the removals while others believe a “blanket ban” like this is too aggressive and that what is more important is teaching children safety information for when they are dealing with strangers. This is an interesting controversy when applied to the idea of free expression on the Internet. The idea of intermediary liability discussed by Balkin (2009) in his article would cause one to believe that these social networking sites could not be held responsible for what their users are doing. So, if a user is a sexual offender contacting young children in an inappropriate manner, Facebook or MySpace could not be held liable for this action if something illegal were to occur. Yet, this idea did not stop these sites from doing what is the more ethical thing by removing these members. In this case, the idea of supporting free expression and free speech was less important than protecting its’ members. This case also supports Balkin’s idea that “protecting free speech values in the digital age will be less and less a problem of constitutional law…and more and more a problem of technology and administrative regulation” (p. 115). This case is entirely a matter of administrative regulation. Even though one could argue that by removing these pages, the sites are violating the First Amendment rights of the people who were removed, these sites obviously felt that it was more important for their business to remain moral, ethical organizations and do the right thing to protect its users. I found no information about people whose pages were removed suing for a violation of First Amendment rights…or suing for anything at all. I also predict that if these sites wouldn’t have removed these pages, they would have a far bigger issue on their hands.
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