While prowling through Facebook’s various rules and regulations (and there are many), I came across this one, How to Report a Sex Offender:
It seems that, “Convicted sex offenders are not allowed to use Facebook.” I found this to be an interesting civil liberties perspective, given how ubiquitous and multifunctional Facebook and other social media sites have become in today’s society. It’s almost like denying a group of people access to the very Internet itself. It’s also further problematic, again from a civil liberties perspective, when one considers that it overtly targets individuals who have, by definition, already served their time and their so-called “debt to society.”
Of course, our society has already declared that it is reasonable to restrict the freedoms of such individuals beyond the term of their punishment, in such ways as requiring them to register on government websites and not living near schools, etc (depending upon jurisdiction). Frankly, I have a problem with any restrictions on people’s freedoms after they have already completed their court-ordered period of punishment— for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that this practice is unevenly applied. For example, financial criminals are usually free to go back to work in the financial industry after they serve their sentences. Convicted arsonists aren’t prohibited from living near wooden houses. And murderers are free to return to society with nary any restrictions placed upon them at all; and all of the above have suspected high rates of recidivism.
I will also point out that a “convicted sex offender” is not necessarily a pedophile, or an online predator. Facebook has made this blanket exclusion for all manner of sex offence, which can include a host of adult-only activities.
But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about here. Instead, upon doing some quick Googling, I discovered that Facebook’s enforcement of this 2008 exclusion was deemed illegal by a US court of appeals earlier this year. The challenge was brought forth by the ACLU, using many of the same arguments I put forth above. I found two particular newspaper articles noting the ruling, one in the Right-of-centre Canadian newspaper The National Post, and the other in Wired Magazine.
The content of the articles is fairly the same. They just describe the court ruling and the stated justifications for the ruling. But it’s the comments after the articles that are in stark contrast!
The Wired audience writes:
“The government has no business interfering with anyone’s use of a service which is wholly privately owned and operated. This is a good ruling.”
“If overly broad laws can affect the worst of our society what is to stop it from affecting the best of our society? The Federal Judge and ACLU acted appropriately even if the whole idea of a sexual predator on Facebook scares me.”
Whereas, the NatPo audience writes:
“If they would just put all sexual offenders to death we wouldn’t have to worry.”
“They say that misery enjoys company but after seeing the American courts turn their backs on children’s safety just like Canadian courts, I just feel sadder.”
Is this dissonance a reflection of the political stripes of the two audiences? Or of the pet concerns of the two? (Since NatPo is a general news audience, while Wired caters to computer nerds.)
Of course, I tend to side with the Wired comments above, especially the second one. But that’s irrelevant. What’s really interesting is the manner in which our new society struggles, not just to express its values through law, but to even agree upon what those values are.