Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have become so popular, many Americans now view them as part of everyday life. For millions of people, it's become a daily, if not hourly, ritual to update your Facebook status or "tweet" a message to your followers.
However, if you're a convicted sex offender, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a part of the social network scene.
"There is growing sentiment in this country that sex offenders, particularly child predators, should not be allowed to use websites like Facebook," explains attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV. "Many believe Facebook makes it too easy for a predator to become involved with an unknowing child."
Last week, a federal judge upheld a 2008 Indiana law that bans registered sex offenders from accessing Facebook and other websites that children can access. In her 18-page order, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote that social networking websites, chat rooms and instant messaging have created a "virtual playground" for lurking sexual predators. Pratt also referenced a 2006 report by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that indicated one in seven children had received online sexual solicitations.
The law does have its detractors, most notably the American Civil Liberties Union, which said last week that it will appeal the judge's ruling. ACLU attorney Ken Falk says that the law was created to protect children but it prevents sex offenders from using social media for political, business and religious purposes.
"The ACLU has an interesting argument, but many Americans no doubt feel protecting children from online predators is more important than allowing sex offenders to use Facebook for other purposes," stresses Sweet.
Other states have failed in their attempts to impose similar bans. In 2009, a federal judge blocked part of a Nebraska law that included a social networking ban for sex offenders. In February, a federal judge overturned a Louisiana law because it was, in his opinion, too broad and restrictive.
In May, Louisiana passed a new law that requires sexual offenders and child predators to state their criminal status on their social networking pages.
Sweet adds, "Louisiana's new law builds on current sex offender laws that require sex offenders to notify neighbors and the local school district of their residency."
This law, which goes into effect August 1, is the first of its kind in the nation. The authors of the legislation say they hope other states follow Louisiana's lead.