When Louisiana state representative Jeff Thompson failed in his effort to banish sex offenders from the Internet -- he had a Plan B.
Even though a state law he had pushed for was tossed by federal courts,
which said the ban was too broad, the revised bill becomes law in Louisiana effective August 1.
The new Thompson act requires convicted sex offenders to disclose the details of any past convictions
on any profile on Facebook, MySpace, and similar social networks.
The law mandates that any offender who is active on social media "include in his profile for the networking website an indication that he is a sex offender or child predator and shall include notice of the crime for which he was convicted, the jurisdiction of conviction, a description of his physical characteristics... and his residential address."
Do note: Facebook, for its part, already bans sex offenders. Per the TOS: "You will not use Facebook if you are a convicted sex offender." MySpace, too, bans sex offenders and in 2009 purged thousands who had set up pages regardless.
So Louisiana is in effect demanding self-incrimination of sex offenders, who would set themselves up for immediate exclusion from social networks.
But just maybe this whole effort will wind up backfiring. Before examining why, follow this Bayou logic, which has more tangled strands than boiled okra: Thompson expects his notification requirement to withstand constitutional challenges because, as he told multiple news outlets, it is an extension of existing state laws requiring convicted offenders to notify police, neighbors, and school officials when they change address. He's probably right on that score.
The new law is also par for the Baton Rouge course because Louisiana is about as inhospitable to sex offenders as any state in the union. Governor Bobby Jindal, a couple years ago, with much fanfare, signed legislation that requires sex offenders to submit to castration under certain circumstances. On a second conviction of a sex offense involving a child 12 or younger, Louisiana law now requires the judge to sentence the offender to chemical castration. The law also allows a court to order physical castration instead.
It should go without saying but I will say it anyway: Sex offenders are despicable and all the more so when their crimes involve children.
But there are also limits on how far justice ought to go.
The ACLU is adamant that laws such as Louisiana's violate basic rights. "To broadly prohibit such a large group of persons from ever using these modern forms of communication is just something the First Amendment cannot tolerate," Ken Falk, legal director of Indiana's ACLU chapter, told the AP.
Meanwhile, Louisiana lawmakers just passed HB620, a separate bill from Thompson's that bans sex offenders from using social networks, period.
Jeff Thompson thinks HB620 is vulnerable to the ACLU challenge that is sure to come. He told CNN:
It may very well fall under scrutiny and attack. That's one of the reasons that I created the bill I did. I'm not trying to create a ban. I'm just trying to create an expansion of the existing notice requirements. I challenge you today to walk down the street to see how many people and children are checking Pinterest, Instagram, and other social networking sites. If you look at how common it is, that's 24 hours a day, seven days a week for somebody to interact with your children and your grandchildren.
Isn't that the whole point, however? The philosopher Descartes, almost 500 years ago, famously pronounced: Cogito ergo sum Now, in 2012, it may not be thinking per se that proves existence but a presence on social networks.
Daily, I check LinkedIn profiles and Facebook. If I don't find people there, they don't exist.
But sex offenders do exist and they need to be apprehended.
So, maybe, it is not Representative Thompson who is wrongheaded, so much as it is Facebook, MySpace, et al, which simply caved into demands to ban sex offenders and therefore took them off the radar of law enforcement.
I'm beginning to think Thompson is onto something. Even if it is not necessarily what he intended.
— Robert McGarvey has been online and writing about the Internet for nearly 25 years.