The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this week that could lead to the court upholding a North Carolina law that keeps sex offenders off Facebook for 30 years.
The case began when 36-year-old Lance Packingham was convicted of a felony in 2010 for having a Facebook account. Packingham had pled guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor when he was 21, and registered as a sex offender. Then, when he signed up for a Facebook account seven years later, he posted an innocuous status about beating a traffic ticket. However, a police officer saw his post, and thanks to a 2008 law banning sex offenders from using Facebook, Packingham was charged with a felony and given a suspended prison sentence.
Packingham’s lawyer, Stanford law professor David Goldberg, has said social media is such a big part of our lives that it’s critical for people to have access to it for free speech reasons. He also said the North Carolina law goes too far, punishing his client for saying something unrelated to his original charge.
“Everyday Americans understand that social media — which includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — are absolutely central to their daily life and how the First Amendment is exercised in America today,” Goldberg said.
However, officials insist the law doesn’t infringe upon the First Amendment, noting that it only prevents sex offenders from posting on Facebook and not from using the Internet as a whole.
“There’s nothing that a sex offender can’t say on the Internet. They just can’t say it on Facebook,” Louisiana Solicitor General Colin A. Clark wrote in a brief supporting the law.
The fact this case went all the way to the Supreme Court shows just how complicated it is, and its outcome could have a big impact on how Facebook use is legally regulated.