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how to get a troubled teen back on track

Can You Still Use Social Media Sites If You Were Convicted of a Sexually Related Offense?

by Bernard Rice

If you were convicted of a sexually-related criminal offense, are you still allowed access to social media sites? The answer isn't a simple or easy. This is what you should do.

Check the rules of the site.

Some of the more popular social media sites expressly forbid registered sex offenders from using their sites, but many don't. To avoid any problems, read the terms of service carefully before you register. It's entirely legal for a social media site to discriminate against you due to your criminal history because social media companies are private organizations. There are also no laws that give people with a criminal background a "protected status" against discrimination.

Find out the laws in your state.

Many states have laws which prohibit sex offenders from using social networking sites. This is where the situation gets complicated because many of those laws may not hold up in court.

An Indiana law forbidding sex offenders from using social networking sites was struck down in 2013. A similar law in Louisiana was overturned in 2012. In both cases, the courts essentially held that broad laws forbidding sex offenders from social networking sites violated an individual's Constitutional First Amendment right to free speech. The decision was based largely on the broad nature of the rules, which prohibited sex offenders from any activity on social media.

However, while the law might eventually agree with you, if your state currently has a law on the books restricting your use of social media, you're endangering your freedom and finances if you choose to disobey. One North Carolina woman violated the law by creating a social media account under a false name but was caught and arrested. While any conviction might be overturned on appeal, she still faces extensive fines and potential jail time, as well as legal fees. Unless you're willing to be a test case for an appeal, it's wiser to follow the laws in your state.

Keep in mind that these laws may change rather quickly, as well. For example, after the law in Louisiana barring all social media use by sex offenders was struck down, the state responded by passing a new, more narrowly aimed law. It now allows you to use social media even if you've had a conviction for a sexual offense—but only if you disclose the fact that you're a convicted sex offender on the site.

Understand the rules of your probation or parole.

If you're on probation or parole for a sexual offense, don't assume that you're allowed on social media sites even if the laws in your state allow it. Read the terms of your probation or parole and make sure that you understand any limitations on your online actions.

Not understanding (or not following) the rules can lead to trouble in more than one way. An Arizona man on probation for a sexual offense repeatedly violated the terms of his probation, which sharply restricted his use of the internet. He's now going to prison for 10 years, and his conviction has been upheld on appeal. In another case, a Tennessee man went back to prison because he failed to report his online social media accounts to the Sex Offender Registry, as required. The content on his social media pages has added to his troubles, because it includes photos of him with young girls, in violation of the terms of his release.

If you've been convicted of a sexually based offense, no matter how minor or what the situation, talk to an attorney if you have any questions about your online media use before it lands you into additional trouble. If you've made a mistake already, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.