Social Web: Sexual predators need not apply

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has hung a big “keep out” sign on the social Web, signing into law a bill that would make it a felony for registered sex offenders to hang out on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

In fact, the bill goes so far as to bar them from any site that has visitors create an account.

Here’s the operative definition:

“‘Social networking website’ means an Internet website containing profile web pages of the members of the website that include the names or nicknames of such members, photographs placed on the profile web pages by such members, or any other personal or personally identifying information about such members and links to other profile web pages on social networking websites of friends or associates of such members that can be accessed by other members or visitors to the website. A social networking website provides members of or visitors to such website the ability to leave messages or comments on the profile web page that are visible to all or some visitors to the profile web page and may also include a form of electronic mail for members of the social networking website.”


Pretty broad, no? No Flickr. No Delicious. Dear god, no Twitter.

Sites like Facebook, MySpace and Craigslist have all had their run-ins with the seedy side of human activity, and lord knows they’ve seen their share of sexual predators. They’ve also taken some steps, albeit generally at the behest of law enforcement, to keep their sites clean. It’s an uphill climb.

But any Web site with profile pages? Given that more and more sites are trying to build communities around their content, which means registrations and profile pages, the Illinois law seems headed down a slippery slope that (if taken literally and obeyed) would become a much wider ban than just Facebook and its ilk. Seems an unwise approach for dealing with people we’re trying to reintegrate.

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