Thursday, May 24, 2007

MySpace and its Treatment of Sex Offenders...

Recently MySpace announced it would crack down on known sex offenders who use the popular website. As described in this New York Times article, MySpace will cooperate with state attorneys general who had requested information on its members - provided they issue subpoenas and comply with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act - and also begin running its own database check against public Megan's Law databases to identify and ban sex offenders with MySpace accounts.

This all seems well and good. After all, who can complain about MySpace taking steps to protect its underage users from predatory sex offenders?

Sex offenders can. Carl H. is a registered sex offender who has responded to MySpace closing his account by writing into a Wired Blog. To summarize, he states that he has not committed a sex crime in the nine years since his conviction, that none of his MySpace conversations were inappropriate or alluded to sex in any way, and that he uses MySpace "for the most part to find good music bands to listen to, as well as more buddies to game with."

Carl H. says that he seeks justice. He makes a valid argument in that if MySpace is going to ban sex offenders, than why not also "for identity theft convictions, drug dealing convictions, murder convictions? Because criminals use MySpace for these things as well." His prescription... MySpace should monitor its site and kick off pedophiles, while leaving ex-offenders alone.

Is it possible that Carl H. has a good idea, and yet is simultaneously misguided? It does make sense for MySpace (and similar social networking websites) to monitor its site for pedophiles and behavior that is predatory. In fact, even more protections are need. That would certainly help to better protect children, and would establish people's behavior as the basis for banning them from participation on the site.

But that also seems to be exactly the point where Carl H. goes wrong. People's behavior does matter, not only on the website, but in the real-world as well, and for a crime as despicable as being a sex offender (for which he was convicted), that is a behavioral legacy that's not unreasonable to still be having effects after nine years.

The question of what constitutes a fully rehabbed former criminal is always one that societies must grapple with. But that is in the public sphere. It must be remembered that MySpace is a private company in business to make a profit. And from their perspective, if they have the choice of gaining a reputation for being a safe environment for kids through being overcautious against ex-sex offenders, versus being known as a progressive cyber space where even sex offenders are given second chances, for them that's a no brainer.

Maybe this is unfair for Carl H. But if banning ex-sex offenders from MySpace will prevent even a single act of child predation, then that is a trade-off surely worth making at the expense of banning them from this one particular website.


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