Illinois governor Pat Quinn signed into law this week a bill that bans all registered sex offenders in his state from engaging in online social networking. The bill defines a social networking site as one containing: "profile web pages of the members," "photographs placed on the profile web pages," and "any other personal or personally identifying information." Taking effect in January, the bill ensures that any registered offender who violates the ban will be charged with a felony.
Though the bill's aim is limiting the contact between sexual predators and potential victims, there is a small problem. It's not the definition of 'social networking' that's the issue; it's the definition of 'sex offender.' Back in 1994, 33-year-old Jesse Timmendequas (who had already twice been convicted of sexual assault) used a puppy to lure seven-year-old Megan Kanka into his New Jersey house, where she was beaten, raped, and killed. Her parents helped push a series of what came to be colloquially known as Megan's Laws into effect, forcing convicted offenders to register as sex offenders. In 2006, laws passed requiring all states to make those registries public.
Yet, in the hysteria to stop sex offenders, individuals with bizarre -- but not dangerous -- behaviors were labeled as 'predators,' usually for their entire lives. Salon.com reports that a full 13 states consider public urination to be a sex offense (Two only consider it an offense if a child is present). According to Human Rights Watch, 29 states require teens who engage in consensual sex to register as offenders, while 32 states require the same of flashers and streakers. The Economist profiles a Georgia woman and registered offender who was caught performing oral sex on a boy just shy of 16 when she herself was only 17 years old. That dubious infraction still haunts her, keeping her from gainful employment nearly 15 years later.
Any parent would want to know if a convicted sex offender were moving into the neighborhood, and would love to hear that he or she couldn't join their kids' social networks. Yet, Hacker Journalist points out that almost every Web site (Switched included) has a social networking component, as individuals can register and leave comments.
In the States, we let criminals out of jail because our system is based on rehabilitation. But keeping those who have been deemed rehabilitated from leading normal lives off of useful sites (The New York Times, LinkedIn, and Monster.com all have social networking elements) will only marginalize them more. Redefine 'sex offender,' and keep those with violent or disturbed pasts off of social networks. The public urinators and the kids who make bad decisions? Slap 'em with fines, but don't ruin their lives. [From: Mashable, Salon.com, HackerJournalist, TheEconomist.com, ChicagoTribune.com, and Human Rights Watch]
Blackmail Sending any personal info or incriminating pictures to someone on Facebook is a huge mistake for many reasons. One of the worst possible outcomes is getting blackmailed for money, sex, or, well, anything these sickos dream up. Really, whether they're using a fake profile or not, it's a horrible idea. Read up on the story of an 18-year-old who blackmailed 31 male classmates after he posed as a girl and asked for nude pictures. That's lesson enough.
Impostors Sure, it can be harmless to impersonate a celeb online or create a fake profile for a movie character. But seriously, there's a definite line you shouldn't cross when pretending to be someone else and it can lead to dire consequences for you. Maybe it's not as extreme as the Moroccan man who was jailed for 43 days after creating a fake Facebook profile of a prince, but you never know. Just steer clear of it.
Suicide Social networking sites has been blamed for a lot of things, fairly and unfairly, but in our opinion, the worst offense has been their indirect involvement in suicides. Obviously, there are a lot of factors responsible in each case, but there does seem to be links between social networking and a rash of suicides, and obviously tehre's the case tragic of Megan Meier, who killed herself after a classmate's mom impersonated a teen boy and harassed her over Myspace.
Murder We've reported on numerous incidents of people getting in trouble because of their online behavior. Now, people are becoming victims because of what they're doing on the Web too. In England, a man was convicted of murdering his estranged wife after she changed her relationship status to "single." So, be careful of who can see your profile and what you're doing, no matter how harmless it seems.
Nigerian Scammers Oh, you thought this only happened via poorly worded emails, right? WRONG. Once people got wise to their old ways, these con men are turning to social networking sites for new targets. This time, they're hacking into people's accounts and impersonating them to ask for money, usually with some weird sob story. You can check out a transcript of one of these conversations here.
Cooperation Even if the law isn't on a case, a victim, his friends, or empathetic strangers might be. Since it's easy to get word out for anything online, people are using blogs, forums, and social networking sites to help track down criminals. In one such case, a vehicle thief was tracked down by a bunch of anonymous car enthusiasts after the victim posted his story on a forum. In the end, they identified the guy through his Facebook profile.