Okay to ban sex offenders from social media? Who’s next?

By Perry Grossman . . . On April 27, 2010, Lester Gerard Packingham Jr. posted a Facebook status:

“Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismiss the ticket before court even started. No fine, No court costs, no nothing spent. . . . Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS!”

This post appears entirely ordinary—something that might show up on your own Facebook feed without raising any questions. But when Durham, North Carolina’s Police Cpl. Brian Schnee discovered it, he applied for and obtained a search warrant for Packingham’s home. A few months later, Packingham was indicted on a felony charge and in May 2012, he was convicted.

The felony charge was not for the traffic ticket he’d avoided—it was for posting about it. In 2002, when he was a 21-year-old college student, Packingham was indicted on two counts of statutory rape for having sex with a 13-year-old girl that he said he was dating without knowing her age. He was convicted on one lesser count—“taking indecent liberties with a minor.” Packingham, who had no prior criminal record, received the shortest allowable sentence (10–12 months), though the judge suspended that in favor of 24 months of supervised release, which Packingham completed without incident. Packingham was also required to register as a sex offender. By the time he celebrated the dismissal of his traffic ticket, Packingham had been not in prison, on parole, or on probation for several years.

He was, of course, still required to register as a sex offender. In 2008, North Carolina made it a felony for any person on the state’s sex offender registry to “access” any “commercial social networking website” that the person “knows” does not restrict usage to legal adults. Although the state claims that this law, NCGS §14-202.5, is intended to prevent sexual predators from gathering information about minors, Section 202.5 and related restrictions go far beyond that ostensible purpose and instead, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has observed, work to drive an unpopular and politically powerless group of people out of public life altogether. The approximately 20,000 people on North Carolina’s sex offender registry include people who have been convicted of offenses that do not involve minors or the internet as well as people who, like Packingham, have otherwise served their sentences. But the law does not take this into account. If you’re on the list, and you’re also on Facebook, you can be charged with a felony. There have been more than 1,000 convictions under this law.

The phrase “commercial social networking web sites” likely telegraphs sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, but the law also prohibits a registrant from “accessing” any site that (1) “derives revenue from advertising”; (2) has functions that “facilitate the social introduction of two or more people”; (3) allows users “to create personal profiles, e-mail accounts, or post information on message boards”; and (4) permits access to minors. The result is that virtually any website that has a comment or review function and allows minors to use it may be off limits. Under this definition, a registrant could commit a felony by checking basketball scores on ESPN.com, looking up cold remedies on WebMD, posting a résumé on LinkedIn, or listening to Chopin nocturnes on Pandora. A registrant could be sent to prison for simply trying to read this article, regardless of whether she attempts to engage any other readers in discussion, on the merits of North Carolina’s efforts to banish registered sex offenders from public life—a topic on which the public would likely benefit from receiving the views of registered sex offenders. The class of prohibited sites is so broad and vague that when Packingham’s arresting officer was cross-examined as to how he might advise a confused registrant, Cpl. Schnee testified: “If you have a question about whether you can or can’t do something, don’t do it. The best way for them—for somebody not to get in trouble is to not do something.” In other words, perhaps it’s better for registered sex offenders to avoid the internet altogether.

Please continue reading Grossman’s full article at Slate.

19 comments for “Okay to ban sex offenders from social media? Who’s next?

  1. ML
    March 8, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    I am in Louisiana. If the SCOTUS rules in favor of Packingham, will that have an effect on the current Louisiana law banning RSO’s from using social medias?

    • rwvnral
      March 8, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      Any ruling by the United States Supreme Court on a constitutional question applies to every state in the nation.

  2. jon
    March 7, 2017 at 10:27 am

    I had a laugh the other day, in my mail was an invitation to join the neighborhood watch group of my area. But to do I would have to go to their Facebook site to register. Now if I go to Facebook, I am committing a crime, lol. Was this an attempt to set me up, or just an over site on their part, I don”t know. All I know is that I wrote them a letter thanking them for their offer, and I would be happy to join their safety group, (something tells me I won’t be hearing from them again) and mailed the letter. I have 6 months of supervision left on my sentence, and I’m not falling for traps.

  3. Tasha Willingham
    March 5, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    I know of at least one state (Indiana) that banned RSOs from social media, but that statute was ultimately struck down by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Basically, the court said that RSOs who have served their time and are not on conditional release, have every right to be on social media. Thus I don’t see the NC issue having anything but a favorable outcome.

    Something I would like to see challenged is the requirement for RSOs to provide their “online identifiers” as part of their registration. I know that California’s Prop 35 was struck down in this regard, and I believe Illinois’ as well. I have a boatload of “online identifiers” that takes up a couple of pages; it drives them crazy.

  4. Maestro
    March 3, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    I posted a comment here and I don’t see it showing at all. Not even like it usually does saying it’s awaiting moderation. Hmmmm.

    • rwvnral
      March 4, 2017 at 12:56 am

      All comments submitted are set for moderation. That has been policy for years. Nothing gets posted until it’s approved.

      • H n H
        March 5, 2017 at 1:50 pm

        I wonder about the whole moderation thing. I can understand for authenticity purposes. But I’ve posted replies and wait. Sometimes what I write isn’t even posted, even if it’s a direct reply. Makes me wonder if we’re really able to speak our thoughts on the subject at hand, or if our thoughts aren’t subject to being in line with what the moderators want to hear.

        • rwvnral
          March 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm

          All comments are set to moderation just to prevent someone from posting a comment that is hateful towards our friends and supporters. We have NO FULL TIME STAFF, so everything on the back end is managed by volunteers who are, from time to time, distracted by other obligations. Weekends can be even more difficult for obvious reasons. On occasion, certain comments get accidentally marked as spam and emptied even though there may be a legitimate comment included among those marked as spam. We try to avoid that, but it will occasionally occur. Best practice is to let us know after a reasonable amount of time passes and you fail to see your comment post. But sometimes a “reasonable amount of time” may be a few hours depending on who is moderating comments. Thanks!

  5. Maestro
    March 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    I read the full article and I’d like to make a public comment here on something the journalist said:

    “The president thinks the First Amendment protects speech and beliefs he likes, but not those he doesn’t.”

    Not for nothing but…this is exactly the mindset of the liberal left. Don’t believe that? Just look at any YouTube video of a Milo Yiannopous speech and whach the liberals, feminists and SJW’s rudely interrupt his speech. Whach how when they ask him questions they basically SHOUT AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS and when he tries to answer they CONTINUE SHOUTING.

    The same can be seen on the videos of the Trump protestors. These liberals don’t want YOU to be able to say anything. Only they can.
    So I guess the road is a two way street in that regard.

  6. NH Registrant
    March 2, 2017 at 1:15 am

    ALL Registrants are banned from Facebook. On a google search about this subject I came across the entry entitied: “How do I report a convicted Sex Offender?” The entry was from the Facebook site which I do not dare click on.

    The text underneath the Google entry read: “Convicted sex offenders are not allowed to use Facebook. If you’ve encountered an account that may belong to a convicted sex offender, please report it to us.”

    Now, it’s Facebook. I have a feeling that the NC law about ALL social media will sweep the country at some point. And they could very well escalate to a complete ban from the Internet itself. So, we will no longer be able to visit and comment here if that happens. I am so sick of all of this. I am sick of being treated like I am a dangerous individual when I don’t even have a contact crime! The statistics speak for themselves about ALL people on the Registry in that only 5% of them ever commit another offense ever again? But, you see, that doesn’t keep the HYSTERIA going and doesn’t keep that big ol’ “Prison Pig” fat and happy.

    If they ever ban us all completely from the Internet, I hope I’m dead and gone before it happens. I don’t think I could stand to be isolated again like I was while I was in Prison and on Parole. I spent 8 YEARS without being able to communicate with people and my only connection to the outside world was the TV set! I don’t think I can stand to be shut out for life. I would go completely insane!

    I ask myself: “WHY do they keep doing this to us? When is enough going to be enough??!” And I always find my answer immediately: As long as there is PROFIT in Sex Crime HYSTERIA, they will continue it. What a truly sickening world we live in. Our country has lost its heart. The ONLY industry left in this country now is the Prison Industry. We manufacture just about nothing anymore and all our careers are in service fields. How completely and utterly sad.

    I just feel so angry and disgusted right now. But mostly, I feel helpless against a strong tide of insanity that has taken my country and my rights along for the ride!

    • rwvnral
      March 2, 2017 at 1:32 am

      Let’s at least give the Court a chance to reach a decision here. How is NC’s law going to spread through the country if the Court rules in our favor? You’re fanning your own hysteria here. Calm down. You can’t fight hysteria with another variety of hysteria. In this instance, fire doesn’t fight fire. Only water does. The social media bans are not going to engulf the nation because the Court is very likely to prevent that from happening. Take your victories where you can find them…and then, be HAPPY about it.

      • Lin
        March 2, 2017 at 1:49 am

        You’re right! Perhaps there should be a “victory” section on this site. I have to say, when I read a story where there’s been even a small win, I feel better. I feel that maybe some gains are being made……..kinda makes the soul feel there’s hope.

        I know they post the stories, but I’m thinking of a section/ page that is strictly for articles regarding wins; either big or small. Just a thought.

        • rwvnral
          March 2, 2017 at 2:13 am

          It’s a good idea. We will be moving to a new site very soon. A redesign of the website has been going on for several months behind the scenes. Lots of work has gone into it. And this is a good suggestion for a special section of the new site. I’ll put it into the mix and see if we can work it in.

        • Jeremy
          March 3, 2017 at 2:13 pm

          I second this idea! This will give many of us hope on our efforts at activism. I’ve noticed recently there are a few cases in California (I think) where residency restrictions are being shot down by federal courts as well. Either one of two things is going to happen and soon: Either the lawmakers are going to continue to try to make our lives hell and we will keep tying up the courts to fight it, or they will get tired of trying to strip us of our constitutional rights and our lives will eventually return to somewhat of a state of normalcy. I’m ready either way!

      • NH Registrant
        March 2, 2017 at 1:50 am

        I’m sorry. Sometimes the insanity surrounding those of us on the Registry gets to me. It was pure hell to be shut out of the Internet for 8 years. I felt like I was still in prison – which has made the PTSD I already had even worse. Sorry, I screeched a bit.

        I really pray you are right and this goes our way! I can’t live shut out again. With my disabilities, I cannot get out very often. My mobility problems don’t allow it along with my now augmented anxiety issues. So, the Internet is my lifeline to the outside world.

        • rwvnral
          March 2, 2017 at 2:05 am

          I think most folks can sympathize with that. Sure, if you’re home-bound the internet is your connection to the world. It’s a great way to feel connected and fulfill the need for social contact. I believe the Court understands this….most of them, anyways. But thanks for sharing the PTSD with us. That’s the bigger issue for you, personally. And I’m sure everyone can appreciate how difficult that is for you. But, we’re all here because we want things to be better. So, let’s fan that flame as much as we can. We’re all family here because we all share this enormous burden; either directly or indirectly by way of our association to someone who is made to register. And like any family, we’ve got to make sure that we’re not contributing to the pain and suffering others are feeling. We need to empower each other, encourage each other, speak with positive, encouraging words. We want people to be informed, for good or bad. But we want people to be encouraged too. And there’s lots to be encouraged about. More good than bad. Let us dwell on those things.

      • Maestro
        March 5, 2017 at 2:33 pm

        Shouldn’t there have been a lawsuit aimed at the social media sites FIRST? Since it’s THEIR policies banning RSO’s regardless of which states have laws in place about it.
        There is no law in Connecticut banning RSO’s from social media, it’s the social media (Facebook more than any others) who enforce their policy and boot you off and delete your profile when they discover you.

        • rwvnral
          March 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm

          North Carolina is unique in that the social network ban is also prohibited by state statute. There are only a couple of states that do this. And, as I’ve pointed out in other areas, this was a criminal prosecution. This was NOT a lawsuit. Lester Packingham was prosecuted by the state of North Carolina for being on Facebook. He was convicted. He appealed. The Packingham case is a criminal case, not a civil case. As a citizen, Packingham has every right to challenge a criminal conviction on the basis that he believes he was convicted under an unconstitutional statute. We await the high Court’s decision.

        • Kendal
          May 22, 2017 at 9:39 pm

          Yep, they recently discovered me, and there I went, no notice, no chance to let anyone know, just one day couldn’t log in. I also find it odd that the TOS says convicted sex offenders, and not registered sex offenders. I wonder if that is true or a misprint.

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